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Reading Slower Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

Reading rate shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all when it comes to determining improvement in reading performance, especially for children with Irlen Syndrome, and here’s why…

Good Reading Is More Than Speed

Many people believe that faster reading means better reading, and many experts will use a measure of reading rate (or speed) to evaluate reading performance. At it’s core, this type of evaluation makes a lot of sense – better readers read faster, and poorer readers read slower. However, reading isn’t just about speed, and that’s why most comprehensive reading assessments take into account comprehension, fluency, and accuracy in addition to reading rate.

  • Comprehension: How well you understand what you read
  • Fluency: The ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression, phrasing, and intonation
  • Accuracy: Reading the words in a selection correctly

People With Irlen Syndrome May Not Show An Immediate Improvement in Reading Rate

Many people have tried to use reading rate as a measure to assess whether Irlen Spectral Filters and Overlays successfully enhance reading performance in individuals with Irlen Syndrome, and sometimes researchers are very disappointed to find that not only is there not an improvement in reading rate, but some readers actually slow down when using their preferred Irlen Colored Overlay. There are several factors that can determine whether reading speed will increase immediately with the use of color:

  • Age of child: Young children who lack foundational reading skills will not be able to read faster just because they can now see the words clearly, especially if they do not have a fully developed sight word vocabulary or phonemic awareness.
  • Comprehension: Sometimes, when people can finally see what they are reading, they actually will slow down to enjoy and ingest the words on the page, where previously, they were trying to race through the page as fast as possible before the onset of physical symptoms. It is not unusual to see a decrease in reading speed associated with an increase in comprehension scores for individuals with Irlen Syndrome when they use their Irlen Spectral Filters.
  • Reading takes practice: Reading is a skill that requires an individual to acquire a core set of skills through reading instruction and practice. Irlen Spectral Filters and Colored Overlays are not a replacement for either reading instruction or practice. They simply remove the barrier preventing Irlen sufferers from acquiring the necessary skills to excel at reading. It can require additional reading instruction, practice, and remediation to become fast and fluent reader.
  • Reading aloud is a performance skill: Tests of reading rate require the reader to read aloud; however, when someone has spent years with reading difficulties, learning to read aloud well takes practice, even if the person can read fine silently. Improvements in reading may not be accurately captured by requiring the individual to read aloud.

Other Factors Can Contribute to Improvements in Reading Performance and Skill

There are also several things related to reading that many people fail to consider when determining the extent to which Irlen Spectral Filters and Colored Overlays impact reading, such as comfort and duration. Increased comfort when reading not only has a whole host of physical benefits (e.g., no more eye strain, headaches, or fatigue), but it also means that people are able to read for longer periods of time, and that they are able to read a complete selection or assignment without having to take a break. Eliminating the need for breaks during reading makes reading more efficient – there is no need to reread portions from the previous sitting to pick up where one left off. And, an overall extension in reading time (duration), has been shown to have long-term positive effects on students’ achievement (Allington, 2001).

So, don’t be discouraged just because your little reader didn’t magically become a speed reader when putting on his Irlen Spectral Filters or using her Irlen Colored Overlay for the first time. The benefits of using color for individuals with Irlen Syndrome extend well beyond being able to read fast – but watch out, for some of you, that might just happen anyway.


Allington, R. L. (2001). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs. New York: Longman.