Reading disorder: “Rivers” or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome or Irlen Syndrome

Animation of Rivers effect, from site

This was reading for me! They’ve made it into an animation! This is the rivers effect of the white spaces on the page. The rivers were moving and I couldn’t focus on the text to read. From website:

Wikipedia says: “Scotopic sensitivity syndrome (SSS), also known as Visual Stress, Irlen Syndrome, and Asfedia”

Wikipedia gives the symptoms as following. I have bolded and blue-colored the ones that were most related to myself:


One or more of these symptoms may be related to the condition:[citation needed]

  • Eye-strain
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Migraines [I used to get a lot of visual migraines]


  • Nausea, including visually related motion sickness
  • Problems with depth perception (catching balls, judging distance, etc.)
  • Restricted field of view and span of recognition
  • Discomfort in presence of fluorescent lighting
  • Discomfort with busy patterns, particularly stripes (“visual stress” and “pattern glare”)[11]
  • Discomfort with extreme conditions of bright/dark contrast (i.e. backlighting)
  • Discomfort or difficulty reading (reading involves busy patterns, particularly stripes. People with strong symptoms of the syndrome find it very difficult to read black text on white paper, particularly when the paper is slightly shiny.)
  • Text that appears to move (rise, fall, swirl, shake, etc.)
  • Losing text content and only seeing rivers of white through the text
  • Words moving together becoming one unrecognizable word
  • Attention and concentration difficulties
  • Seeing the part and losing the whole
  • Epileptic seizure related to strobing or pattern glare”
Simulation of wavy text from

Simulation of wavy text from: They are advertising the lenses which can apparently help some people to be able to see the text without movement.

My biggest problem was that I could not read text on a page because the white spaces kept jumping out at me and moving around. Also, the words often seemed stuck together or split in the wrong spot, so I would read “phone number” as “pho nenumber” or something like that, and spend a while wondering what the word meant), and the lines of text were wavy and moving. Did I tell anybody? Of course not. I didn’t find out this was a “thing” until a decade later.

Rivers example from site

Another Rivers example, from Although, rivers can cut straight through words, too.

MY WORK-AROUNDS: So somewhere around 7th or 8th grade, I learned to keep 2 sheets of paper with me during class: 1 sheet to lay above the line of text and the other sheet to lay beneath the line of text. That way, only 1 line of text was visible at a time for all of my in-class reading, and reading was then more do-able. Sometimes even having the whole line visible was too much, and I could narrow the margins, too, as I read.

After my Asperger diagnosis I spoke with someone there about it, and they told me that there are also tinted lenses now available for students who have that kind of issue, and can be very useful for some people.

On computer screens, I keep the scroll of the page so that there is a bar beneath or above the line I am reading. I also scroll with my computer mouse just beneath each word that I am reading. When necessary, I click and use my mouse to highlight one line at a time as I am reading. Sometimes it helps to have the line of text itself highlighted, and sometimes I highlight the whole page and then UN-highlight each line as I read it, so that the highlight is actually all the stuff beneath the line I am reading (often revealing just one word at a time, if I’m still distracted with just one line at a time). (This has driven many a person crazy, when they are trying to also read something over my shoulder.)

11 thoughts on “Reading disorder: “Rivers” or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome or Irlen Syndrome

  1. I never tried that highlighting trick to read. It is very helpful. I just tried it now, because you mentioned it. The words do not move around for me the way they do for you, but there is something else wrong that is hard to describe and I cannot always track each line as I am going down the page, Thank you for the highlight the line trick 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Last week, my son reminded me that I showed him the paper trick when he was little. I found it on the internet to help my son when he would get frustrated with reading. I could never get him to verbalize what the words did when he tried to read, but he kept stabbing the table with the pencil and balling up his homework and throwing it across the room when he was in first and second grade. Thanks for posting the name of this condition. He is now seventeen and about to graduate from high school.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Innerdragon – this just popped up as one of the ‘you might like this post’ because you liked one of my posts. I had no idea that you had such a struggle like this, I hadn’t seen this post before (guess you caught me at a busy time). Wow, no wonder you have to have things taped in class and read back to you. I thought it was bad enough having synesthesia with colored numbers and letters, which had physical positions in the alphabet. I know what you mean about splitting the word in the wrong place – a while back I bought a straw hat and the label on it said ‘Strawhat’. I read it as ‘Stra What’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What’s funny is that I saw your word “Strawhat” as “Straw what” so when I saw your “Stra What” I thought… what’s the problem? lol Anyway, thank you for sharing!


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