Colored Overlays and Reading Speed for Children with Autism

Do you have a child with Autism? How about a child with language based learning disability? Would you like to check out a low cost and easy accessible strategy to improve reading with your child? Try a colored overlay! 

What are colored overlays? They are “transparent colored plastic sheet that can be placed over printed text without interfering with their clarity” (Ludlow, Wilkins and Heaton, 2006).

For Research Tuesday and Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to share an interesting article that I thought could be helpful for children struggling with Autism and varying disabilities that affected their literacy. This article titled The Effect of Coloured Overlays on Reading Ability in Children with Autism  (Ludlow, Wilkins & Heaton, 2006) discusses how using coloured overlays can improve reading speed in children with Autism. In this study, The Wilkins Rate of Reading Test was administered with and without Intuitive Coloured Overlays to 19 children with autism. These children were aged between 8 years and 15 years and 1 month and all children were formally diagnosed with autism.

The findings from this study showed that 15 out of 19 children in the study showed an improvement of 5% in reading speed. A significant finding in this particular study was that 79% of the children with autism improved their reading speed at least 5% and that 67% of these children increased reading speed at rates ranging between 11 and 50% with overlays. All of the children in the study reported that the coloured overlays made the text clearer,  and 16/19 of the children reported a preference for the coloured overlay. All of the children who chose the overlay reported fewer symptoms of visual stress. In this study and a former study also done by Wilkins (2001), individuals showed reliability and consistency in their color choice throughout the sessions. The study also found that when the child got to choose the color themselves, the results were better than when the color was chosen for them.

To check out this full article, click here.

To see how colored overlays can help children diagnosed with Meares-Irlen Syndrome, click here.

Why is this research article interesting and significant? I found this article interesting because I never thought about using colored overlays with my clients. The overlays cannot only be helpful for those individuals diagnosed with Autism they can also be helpful for those struggling with ADHD and language based learning disabilities. Is 5% very significant? Maybe not for some, but the findings also found that the text was clearer, created less strain on the eyes and did increase most of the children’s reading speed and for some it was significant. From what I determined from this study, there were no negative effects from using these overlays. So, why not try it?

HeMulti-Ethnic Group Of People's Arms Raised Holding Letters Thatre are some tips to use the colored overlays with your child:

1. Have your child choose the color that would work for them.

2. Ask your child specific questions such as “Is the text clear?”, “Are the words close together or far apart?” “Is the page bright enough?”, “How do your eyes feel when you use the overlay?”

3. Use the overlays when you think your child’s eyes may be strained (e.g. by the end of the day). Using the overlay can make reading a little easier at homework time.


Where do you buy colored overlays? Colored overlays are readily available on Amazon and other online retailers.


Ludlow, Amanda K., Arnold J. Wilkins, and Pam Heaton. “The Effect of Coloured Overlays on Reading Ability in Children with Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 36.4 (2006): 507-16. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <>.






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