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A whole new light

I just got back from Irlen screener training and I have discovered something incredible: I see distortions when I read. The reason this is incredible is because I had no idea I had this problem. This realization has changed my world for the better!

At Easyread we know that Irlen Syndrome is one of the main causes of reading difficulty. Yet so few know about this syndrome.

Irlen Syndrome is a disorder of the way the brain interprets light signals. It can manifest as light sensitivity, but it is more than that. When a person has Irlen Syndrome, their brain becomes overactive when exposed to certain wavelengths of light. This over activity causes symptoms beyond the visual distortions. For example, when under fluorescent lights I get eye aches and slight nausea. If I am there too long I get a headache. This is my body’s response to the difficulty processing that kind of light.

How could I not know I saw distortions?

When we went through the Irlen training I knew I had light sensitivity. I cannot go into the sun without sunglasses, and I knew fluorescent lights bothered my eyes. But as we began to do the screening tasks, I was completely thrown for a loop when I realized that I see flashing and moving when I look at black text on white paper. I also experience a lot of eye discomfort, and my eyes water constantly. Now I know why I hate to wear makeup.

Before doing this screening, I had pushed these symptoms out of my mind. It was so normal for me, I literally ignored them, but my body didn’t and was constantly stressed because of it.

What I learned about Irlen Syndrome is while I am severe, many people have it even more intensely. I can at least still see the type, regardless of the flashing or blurry movement. It takes more effort on my part than the non-Irlen person, but I am able to get through reading, even though I often take breaks to keep from getting a headache.

For others the type will move in ways that make reading almost impossible. It will:

  • swirl
  • lift off the page
  • blend together
  • lose definition
  • sparkle or flash

For many with this condition, they accept this as their norm. They do not realize that others do not see the written word in the same way. They just keep trying harder, even though the effort is often tremendous and taxing. This is especially true of children who do not have the maturity to describe their distortions.

Clues that you might have Irlen Syndrome

People experience a wide variety of symptoms from Irlen Syndrome. Some of the often-seen symptoms include:

  • Sensitivity to light – especially sunlight and fluorescent light
  • Difficulty reading – especially chapter books with smaller text and lots of lines
  • Fidgety when reading
  • Headaches
  • Complaining of eye pain
  • Eyes watering or complaining of dryness or rubs eyes a lot
  • Difficulty writing neatly or staying on the line
  • Careless errors in schoolwork
  • Difficulty with depth perception (ie. Difficulty catching a moving ball)

The Irlen Institute website has a complete list of Irlen Syndrome symptoms as well as an Irlen self-test.

What can be done to help?

Dr. Helen Irlen has discovered that there are 10 colored overlays that can be used to filter out the wavelengths of light that are bothersome. If you use these overlays while reading, they can eliminate the brightness and distortion issues. Not everybody has the same colored overlays, so it is important to visit an Irlen screener to find the exact right color for you. My overlay color is aqua.

If you find your Irlen issues are severe, then you should make an appointment to get tinted Irlen lenses. Note that your overlay color is different than the color your glasses would be, so do not tint glasses based on overlay choice.

The truth is people with Irlen Syndrome can function, but the extra effort they put into that functioning puts a great strain on their body. You can swim in your clothes, but wouldn’t you rather swim in a bathing suit? It’s kind of the same. You can read without Irlen correction, but wouldn’t it be great to read without pain or movement?

I love my Irlen overlay, but I can’t wait to get my Irlen lenses. I am excited to be able to see the world in a whole new light!

If you are working with a child with reading difficulties, make sure to check out the Easyread visual phonics system which can help accommodate Irlen Syndrome, along with fix patterns of guessing, skipping words, and more.

Bonnie Landau is a former advisor for the Easyread visual phonics system, where her son learned to read after years of struggle and specialist intervention.