Is that what you mean by a word? Why we must assess weak readers for Visual Stress.

visual cortex

visual cortex (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A six-year-old boy (we’ll call him Joe)  was unable to blend C-A-T to make “cat” when he was assessed with the  Visual Stress Assessment Pack.  The assessor had worked through the single colours in the test, with no significant difference between a single colour tint and white paper. He was now in the final stages of the visual stress  assessment, using double overlays to deepen the tint on the page of text. When Joe was given a double blue overlay, he sat back and said: “Oh! Is that what you mean by a word? Can I start learning to read now?”

Visual Stress is not assessed for, or even recognised, nationally. Successive governments have attempted to raise literacy standards in school, with the latest “push” being for systematic synthetic phonics as recommended by the 2007 Rose Review, followed up by the current government’s match-funding initiative for approved synthetic phonics materials.  Following the Rose Review, Lord Adonis, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools and Learning, wrote in November 2007:

“We now have a clear, tried and tested method of teaching our children how to read. Since we know what works, there should be no question of any child being left behind.”

No child left behind – except of course, for Joe, and thousands like him, who cannot put three letters together because they won’t stay still on the page.  According to research by professor Arnold Wilkins of Essex University, Visual Stress is most probably caused by “cortical hyperexcitablility”: a condition which results in certain cells in the visual cortex being over-stimulated by specific rays in the colour spectrum, and resulting in a disrupted visual image of the word.  Whatever phonics programme Joe is presented with, he will not start learning to read unless that interference is filtered out, in his case by a deepish blue tint. Until then, it is a lost cause. Visual Stress has won the day.  As I am getting tired of saying: no child can decode a word if the letters are moving around.

Visual Stress number crunch

When children like Joe are left behind they eventually lose interest in education, and seek success and self-esteem  in other areas. Some are fortunate enough to succeed in sport or the arts, but many are not so lucky. Many criminal careers start with educational failure:

“Nearly half of male sentenced prisoners were excluded from school and nearly a third of all prisoners were regular truants whilst at school and more than half of male and more than two-thirds of female adult prisoners have no qualifications at all.”
Prison Reform Trust (2003/2004) Report on ‘Social Characteristics of Prisoners’.

There are various statistics on literacy levels among prisoners, but most sources agree that around 50% of prisoners have a reading level below that which would be expected of an 11-year old. Research by Professor Wilkins published in his book Reading Through Colour (Wiley 2003) suggest that as much as 22% of the population suffers with varying levels of Visual Stress . So how many prisoners are like Joe? 10%? 20%? More?

UK Figures from HM Prison Service, National Audit Office and Ministry of Justice tell us that there are 85,419 prisoners in England and Wales ( BBC News, 29 March 2011) and that the average cost of keeping someone in prison is £47,000 per year. That’s over £4 billion a year.

There are about 17,000 primary schools in the UK.  17,000 Visual Stress Assessment Packs  that would pick up the likes of Joe would cost the taxpayer just £850,000. At 6, Joe was still desperate to start learning to read.  Not many years from now he wouldn’t be.   Yet there is no national screening for Visual Stress in schools, in the UK or anywhere else.

The message to decision makers, whether in schools or in governments,  is simple.  Do you want to save a lot of money? Do you want Joe to have a life?  Do the maths. Take Visual Stress seriously.

One thought on “Is that what you mean by a word? Why we must assess weak readers for Visual Stress.

  1. Pingback: Can the Hand say to the Eye: “I have no need of thee?” | Crossbow Education's Blog

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