Everyone loves reading or viewing a good mystery — the intrigue, the surprise of the unsuspected, and the satisfaction of finding out who did it. But imagine the frustration if you are left hanging with a mystery that has no resolution, a problem that you can’t solve. Millions of families are faced with this situation year after year as they seek answers to their children’s academic, physical or behavioral difficulties.
The child may be dealing with academic issues, problems of attention/ concentration, or physical symptoms — such as complaints of headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause. There could be behavioral concerns, and the child might be angry or aggressive at school but seem totally different at home. Another profile is the child who is clumsy and uncoordinated, with troubles judging depth and spatial relationships, even after physical or occupational therapy.
Traditional educational or medical approaches provide answers for some children with the above problems, but certainly not all. It is for those children, and for the parents and teachers who must discover the source of the condition if they want to find answers, that this article is written.
Being a Smart Detective
Finding solutions is complicated by the fact that not all children are alike and there is no one answer for the problem(s). Further, a “label” does not tell us enough about the source of the difficulty or specifically what weakness needs to be addressed. Sometimes we look in the wrong direction for answers. Being a good detective means looking beyond the obvious. After ruling out medical and classic vision problems, consider the possibility of perceptual difficulties as the source of your child’s problems. Misperception that fits the pattern of Irlen Syndrome can be at the root of any and all of the problems previously mentioned.
Who is Affected?
Symptoms of Irlen Syndrome can occur in any population, not just those with reading difficulties. The corrective approach is the use of Irlen Colored filters or colored overlays, as well as changes to the environment. While reading is the most frequently addressed area, adults and children with autism, attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity, dyslexia, and certain medical and visual conditions have also benefited.
When attempting to remediate reading or any other activity, the colored filter may help improve specific skills, but naturally not all skills required for the activity will be impacted. For example, while fluency and comprehension often improve for children with Irlen Syndrome while using colored filters, students still need basic reading instruction in phonics, word recognition, etc.
The Irlen method is an easy, non-invasive approach that can help make other interventions more successful.
What is Irlen Syndrome?
People with Irlen Syndrome perceive and interpret their world differently, whether while reading or observing their environment. It is as if they are wired differently. Because they have no other point of reference, most children with this problem are unaware that they have it! As a result, they don’t discuss it with their parents or teachers. In addition, they may take it for granted that they have associated physical symptoms. They think it is normal to get tired or have a headache or stomachache when reading or sitting under bright or fluorescent lights. They suffer in silence, wishing they could perform better and please the adults in their life.
Ask yourself, does your child seem bothered by bright or fluorescent lighting? Does he or she stumble over words, skip words or lines, misread words, or reread for comprehension? Does the child have a slow reading rate, experience strain and fatigue, or have difficulty with sustained attention and concentration when reading or doing other visual activities such as homework, copying, or working on the computer? If you see indications of these behaviors, please complete the self-test on our website (www.Irlen.com) to see if you should explore this approach.
Reading, Perception, and the Brain
Sadly, sensory difficulties related to light sensitivity, glare, high contrast, color, and patterns play a direct role in reading but have generally been ignored. The importance of perception in reading has been overlooked even though research has documented the significance of visual processing. Researchers have been able to document that a central processing deficit exists in Irlen Syndrome, and numerous researchers have shown that in dyslexic individuals, the problem occurs in the magnocellular and parvocellular pathways in the brain. This effect has been described as a deficit in the transient visual system. Researchers have studied how Irlen Colored Filters can be an intervention to remove some of the medium to high frequency spatial information that is causing misperception. This helps allow for normal processing of visual information.
As of 2008, over 96,000 children and adults worldwide wear Irlen Colored Filters, and millions use colored overlays. Over 6,000 school districts have implemented Irlen Screening and are providing children with colored overlays.