Helen Irlen Answers Parent Questions on Scotopic Sensitivity
Helen Irlen is Founder and Director of the Irlen Institute and an advisory board member for ACN Latitudes. She answered questions posed by two readers.
We have a son whose eyes water when he reads or laughs. The teacher says it’s Irlen Syndrome/Scotopic Sensitivity, and she gave us books on the subject. But we doubt this is the problem because he reads okay — his eyes just water. He’s an intelligent 9-year-old. The words on the page stay the same for him, only they are a little blurry when his eyes water.
He has not been tested for this. But, the teacher gave him a gray plastic overlay for his paper and let him read out in the hall where there is less glare, and that has helped. The optometrist tells us everything is fine with his eyes, and that fair haired blue-eyed kids are more sensitivities to glare. Should we request special glasses? Where and how would we get them? Any ideas on what we should do?
It sounds as if your son’s teacher is aware that watery eyes and other physical symptoms, such as fatigue, sore eyes, dizziness, and headaches can interfere with reading fluency, attention, concentration, and comprehension. It is important to eliminate any physical symptoms such as these. Since your son’s eye exam did not indicate a visual problem, then the cause is most likely a perception problem called Irlen Syndrome/Scotopic Sensitivity. Some individuals with Irlen Syndrome find that the print does not stay clear or stable when reading. For others, the watery eyes and other symptoms of strain and fatigue are caused by the brightness, glare, or competition between the black print and the white page. Your son’s teacher changed the color of the page and reduced the light and glare, both helpful strategies for individuals with Irlen Syndrome. These techniques reduce the stress and allow the individual to concentrate on comprehension rather than on the act of perceiving. It is much like wearing sunglasses in the bright sunlight.
Although your son is being helped with gray paper, there may be a color or combination of colors that would be more beneficial. Also, many children and adults with Irlen Syndrome are also bothered by lighting, especially fluorescent lights, and would benefit from specially colored glasses. I suggest you have your son tested by a certified Irlen practitioner to determine whether your child has Irlen Syndrome and, if so, what color filter is the most beneficial.
Can you tell me if this is Irlen Syndrome? On your web page under disabilities you have an article on conditions of Irlen syndrome. In myself I can identify restricted span, inefficient reading, and distortions. However, the vision problem is only in one eye. Is this possible? I’m not autistic nor ADDish. I have long been nearly blind in one eye though. The physical focus in that one eye is good (slight astigmatism), but my vision through it is abysmal. I once tried reading with that one eye exclusively (the other eye patched), and had a curious experience. I read much like a 5-year-old, very halting, and requiring much scanning and rereading. But most odd, I found one word I couldn’t even focus on or see — it looked like a gray patch of swimming dots. Is there likely to be a connection with this to Irlen syndrome?
The type of perceptual problem associated with Irlen syndrome occurs because certain wave lengths of light are overloading the visual system and the brain receives distorted messages, or sees the world in a distorted fashion. Problems can occur in the environment and/or reading, computer use, or other perceptual tasks. Usually, we need to tint both eyes the same color and density; but there are individuals who see the world differently from one eye versus the other. We have very rarely treated individuals, such as yourself, who are only experiencing a problem in one eye. For these individuals, the tint may be different in color or density between the two eyes.
In order to give yourself a test to determine if you can be helped by the technique of color filtering, I would suggest that you try reading on different colored paper such as blue, gray, green, pink, purple, and yellow. If you find that one color does improve your reading, then it is highly recommended that you should be tested. Individuals who are light sensitive and bothered by bright lights, fluorescent lights, sunlight, or headlights at night also find that the Irlen Method brings great relief and benefits “seeing.”
For more information on visual sensitivity and Irlen Syndrome please see Irlen.com