Color-Filtering Lenses: Better Reading for Dyslexics?

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Enthusiasm Among The Tested

When Harris tested Maxwell Berta, now a 19-year-old college student, and Sam Berta, now a 14-year-old eighth grader, "it was just very emotional," their father said. When Maxwell first put on the lenses, "he told me that was the first time he ever looked at a sheet of paper where the words didn't fall off the page."

Belinda Ewing, 48, of Meeker, Okla., informed she was dyslexic around age 7, was placed in special ed classes and told "there was nothing for it." Her long-term boyfriend Ken Danforth, 61, says that her dyslexia was so bad when the two met that "she even spoke some words backwards." A friend referred her to an optometrist in Shawnee, Okla., who worked with ChromaGen lenses.

"When she put the glasses on, she read about five times as much as when she didn't have the glasses on," Danforth said. They lenses have made Ewing comfortable reading in public and "able to participate more in life, too." Because she and Danforth are on disability, the friend arranged for Ewing to get the glasses free as "a favor," Danforth said.

With such testimonials, ChromaGen's Edwards downplayed the need for scientific studies to establish the lenses' effectiveness. When they work, he said, the effect "is immediate. We have 25,000 people in the UK wearing these things for 10 years."

However, an optometrist who recently completed a U.S. pilot study of the lenses to improve reading speed among youngsters with documented reading disorders, said he cannot explain the mechanism by which the lenses improve reading, although they're thought to alter the speed at which the brain processes visual signals. "Even if we have proof of the effectiveness of the lens, we're not going to completely understand the physiology of how it works," said Dr. Mitchell M. Scheiman, director of pediatric and binocular vision programs at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in West Chester, Pa. Edwards said the FDA is reviewing protocols for a larger study at the college to establish the lenses' value specifically for dyslexia.

In the single published, peer-reviewed U.S. study to date, Harris and a colleague tested the tinted lenses against placebo lenses among 47 patients, 41 with distortion while reading. Patients with reading distortion had "a significant increase" in their reading rate, the authors reported in the October 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Optometric Association. Harris, who continues investigating new uses of the lenses disorders such as multiple sclerosis, currently runs The Harris Foundation in Kent, England, which since 2009 has provided the filtered lenses free to disadvantaged children.

Another approach to making reading easier for dyslexics involves altering what's on the page. Christian Boer, a dyslexic Dutch graphic artist, has developed Dyslexie, a font that slightly alters the appearance of letters to make them more readable. It's among several special fonts for dyslexic patients, including Lexia readable and Gill Dyslexic.

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