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Irlen Syndrome

What is Irlen Syndrome?

It is is a perceptual dysfunction principally affecting reading and writing-base activities. Children and adults with this condition see the printed page differently from the proficient reader. Symptoms include a slow reading rate, inefficient reading, poor reading comprehension, strain, fatigue and an inability to do continuous reading. Irlen Syndrome can affect reading, attention span, energy level, motivation or work production. In addition, problems with handwriting and depth perception can result. When the Irlen Syndrome goes undetected, students might be viewed as underachievers with behavioural, attitudinal or motivational problems. They often appear bright but fail to produce to a level considered appropriate, and may have been labelled as “dumb”, “stupid” or “lazy”. Some individuals diagnosed as having specific learning difficulties, dyslexia, reading problems, or various developmental delays may also be suffering from the Irlen Syndrome.

The Irlen Syndrome is not, of itself, a learning difficulty. It is a complex and variable condition often found to co-exist with learning difficulties. Treatment for the Irlen Syndrome does not eliminate the need for remedial help. Symptoms of the Irlen Syndrome may remain undetected by standard visual and medical examinations, educational and psychological evaluations and other school related tests.

What are the symptoms?

  • Light Sensitivity
  • Difficulty with print resolution
  • Restricted span of recognition
  • Difficulty with sustained attention
  • Poor depth perception

What to look for:

  • Reading in dim lighting
  • Skipping words or lines
  • Slow or hesitant reading
  • Deteriorating reading
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Inability to read for long periods
  • Misreading words
  • Trouble keeping place
  • Avoidance of reading

Complaints while reading:

  • General strain and fatigue, eye strain, drowsiness
  • Headaches or nausea
  • Indistinct print
  • Uncomfortably bright background

General writing characteristics:

  • Writing up or downhill
  • Unequal spacing
  • Errors when copying
  • Inconsistent spelling

General mathematics characteristics:

  • Sloppy or careless errors
  • Misaligned numbers in columns

Depth perception:

  • Clumsiness and poor concentration
  • Difficulty catching balls and judging distances
  • Extreme caution while driving

Treatment of Irlen Syndrome:

The Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual dysfunction caused by sensitivity to light rather than visual problems. It is therefore a requirement that, before Irlen assessments are undertaken, a full eye examination and any necessary treatment is carried out by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. For those who have the Irlen Syndrome, the brain finds it difficult to process full spectral light. This causes interference and perceptual distortions which disrupt the ease and efficiency of the reading process.

The treatment technique developed by Helen Irlen consists of altering the problem light waves through the use of coloured filters or coloured overlays. Irlen Filters modify the light spectrum in order to improve reading rate, comprehension and/or sustained attention for those with the Irlen Syndrome. After an intensive reading-related diagnostic assessment, the most beneficial filter can be determined from an almost limitless number of colour combinations. Clinical evidence shows that for nearly half of those with reading problems, the Irlen Syndrome is one piece of the puzzle. Those treated experience a high success rate.