What Is Irlen Syndrome? What Are the Symptoms? by Lauren Brukner, MS, OTR/L

I reviewed a book whose author has two children with Irlen syndrome and was happy to learn another author could tell us all about it! On Irlen.com I learned, ” Irlen Syndrome (also referred to at times as Meares-Irlen Syndrome, Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, and Visual Stress) is a perceptual processing disorder. It is not an optical problem. It is a problem with the brain’s ability to process visual information. This problem tends to run in families and is not currently identified by other standardized educational or medical tests. This problem can manifest itself differently for each individual. This problem is not remediable and is often a lifetime barrier to learning and performance.”

This guest post on Irlen Syndrome/Scoptic Sensitivty is written by Lauren Brukner, MS, OTR/L. Lauren is the author of The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and in Control: Simple Stuff to Help Children Regulate Their Emotions and Senses, and we thank her for writing another guest post to introduce her book on our Special Needs Book Review site. 

Updating post March 2016: Then in Dec. of 2015 Ms. Brukner came out with her second book, How to Be a Superhero Called Self-Control!: Super Powers to Help Younger Children to Regulate their Emotions and Senses.

Lauren Brukner, MS, OTR/L is a Certified Screener for Irlen Syndrome/Scoptic Sensitivty. We asked her to answer the following three questions for the readers of this Special Needs Blog:

  1.  Is Irlen syndrome very common?
  2. What symptoms will individuals have that make them go for an evaluation?
  3. Once a child is diagnosed with Irlen syndrome what do you suggest as techniques or strategies to help this child?

Is Irlen syndrome very common?

Firstly, let me delve into the definition of Irlen Sydrome very superficially. It is defined as a visual-perceptual disorder that is neurologically based. Symptoms vary across individuals, and are triggered by the environment. Severity of this Syndrome ranges from slight to severe. Envornmental stressors include, but are not limited to: colors, contrast, lighting, amount of print on the page, patterns, demand for continuous performance and or/comprehension, print size/format/style. Examples of specific environmental stressors include reading, math, scantron  answer sheets, looking/listening to the speaker, screen-based activities (computer, iPad, video-games, movies, etc.), writing/copying, reading, math, etc.

It is important to both identify and correct Irlen Syndrome before you engage in instruction and remediation. If you ignore this as an option, it may lead to misdiagnosis. Irlen can also occur along with other diagnoses.

Irlen Syndrome is more common than I had thought before I became trained and certified. Irlen Overlays are recognized as a standard low tech assistive technology for testing. Over 100,000 adults and children wear Irlen Spectral Filters. In terms of identifying the population diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome:

  • 46% of those with specific learning disabilities and reading problems.
  • 33% of individuals misdiagnosed with ADHD, Dyslexia, and/or behavior problems.
  • 12-14% of general population, gifted, and good readers.
  • 70% of individuals with head injury, concussion, or whiplash.
  • 80% of individuals with autism.
  • Certain medical/visual conditions.

What symptoms will individuals have that make them go for an evaluation?

School Populations – Signs to Watch to Warrant a Screening:

-Complains of headaches/strain/fatigue while reading in school.

-Avoids reading for pleasure.

-Does poorly on timed tests.

-Unable to keep up.

-Spends longer to complete homework assignments and/or reading assignments.

-“Could do better if tried harder”

-ADHD

-Behavior concerns

-Grades don’t reflect effort

-Inefficient reading

-Good verbal skills

-Anxiety

General Symptoms to Warrant a Screening:

  1. Light Sensitivity – Discomfort or difficulty focusing under bright lights/fluorescent lights. Bothered by glare, sunlight.
  2. Poor Depth Perception – Inability to accurately judge spatial relationships. May have difficulty using escalators/stairs, or playing ball-based sports.
  3. Attention Deficit – Problems focusing while reading or completing academic work. May have trouble staying on task, may take breaks and look away from their work, become fidgety or tired.
  4. Inefficient Reading – Skips words/lines, loses place, may misread words. May read lines from the line above or below, repeat lines. May have weak comprehension.
  5. Strain or Fatigue – Feel strain or fatigue, tension. May have watery eyes, or eyes that hurt/ache, feel sandy. May get headaches or feel nauseous, dizzy, fidgety, anxious, or irritable with reading and other perceptual activities.
  6.  Slow Reading Rate – Inability to read letters, numbers, musical notes, or words in groups. Difficulty tracking and correctly identifying words. Difficulty in the area of ‘skimming a page’/speed-read.

Once a Certified Irlen Screener finds enough evidence to support symptoms that correlate to Irlen Syndrome, they would first provide the client with a list of different recommendations, accommodations, and possibly an Irlen Overlay in a recommended color. They may then refer the client out to an Irlen Diagnostician for further exploration, and possible fit for Irlen Spectral Filters.

Once a child is diagnosed with Irlen syndrome what do you suggest as techniques or strategies to help this child?

 An Irlen Screener is able to provide a host of recommended environmental recommendations/accomodations, as well as specific Irlen Overlays. Overlays can be used only during reading tasks, have a limited color selection, need to be replaced periodically, and can become scratched.

Lenses for Irlen syndrome - What Is Irlen Syndrome? What Are the Symptoms? by Lauren Brukner, MS, OTR/L.An Irlen Diagnostician may determine whether (or not) Irlen Spectral Filters may be a good option to address symptoms associated with Irlen Sydrome. These have a different color than the overlay (transmitted vs. reflected light). They can either be worn as contact lenses or regular lenses. Utilizing these lenses, for the right individual, can, depending on the symptoms presenting, optimize reading, decrease headaches and other physical symptoms, and allow for changes in depth perception, copying, math, computers, and light sensitivity.

Modifications:

A. Classroom Modifications:

  1. Contrast- Teacher should limit stripes, plaids, or polka dots in environment; No bright or fluorescent colors; No large or glittery jewelry or buttons.
  2. Lighting- Visor or brimmed hat to reduce glare; Gels over fluorescent lighting (or sheer curtains; Incandescent or indirect natural lighting; Reduce lighting;
  3. Whiteboards-Write in columns; Gray or brown; Colored marker/chalk (red and yellow are hard to see).
  4. Paper-Different colors work for different individuals; Recycled/off-white/non-glare.
  5. Computer/Over-head Projector-Utilize colored overlays in conjunction.

B. Reading Modifications:Photo from Irlen Syndrome: Many Dyslexics Have This Syndrome www.everyday-wisdom.com - What Is Irlen Syndrome? What Are the Symptoms? by Lauren Brukner, MS, OTR/L.

  1. Dim lighting.
  2. Colored overlays.
  3. Irlen spectral filters (if child has them).
  4. Incandescent lighting.
  5. Magnifying bar.
  6. Visor/brimmed hat.
  7. Avoid fluorescent lighting.
  8. Markers (above, below, to the side of the line).

C. Testing Modifications:

  1. Take test in natural lighting.
  2. Tests duplicated on colored paper.
  3. Colored plastic overlays.
  4. Scantron answer sheets (use a ruler, duplicate on colored paper)

Information from www.Irlen.com and related training materials.

Irlen Syndrome Simulations Video Published on 22 Mar 2016 by the Irlen Institute

The video below lets the viewer experience what it’s like to have Irlen Syndrome. Try to read the words on the screen as they change and move, flicker and flash. Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing difficulty that can affect reading comprehension, flow and fluency, and cause physical symptoms such as headaches, eyestrain, and fatigue.

Also: Watch YouTube Video Understanding Irlen Syndrome and the Irlen Method

Follow Lauren Brukner, MS, OTR/L:

Buy books by Lauren Brukner, MS, OTR/L.

  • How to Be a Superhero Called Self-Control!: Super Powers to Help Younger Children to Regulate their Emotions and Senses (Dec 21 2015) Amazon.com  Amazon.ca 
  • The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control Simple Stuff to Help Children Regulate their Emotions and Senses (July, 2014)  Amazon.com   Amazon.ca

Review of How to Be a Superhero Called Self-Control!: Super Powers to Help Younger Children to Regulate their Emotions and Senses by Lauren Brukner, MS, OTR/L.”

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