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IRLEN SYNDROME - When Reading is a Real Pain

If you have a child with an IEP, gets headaches, or gets tired after reading, reports distorted pages or floating letters, you owe it to him/her to read this article and investigate a non-medical solution. Chances are, your child is more capable than she or he performs due to symptoms of a sensory processing disorder not widely known by pediatricians, optometrists, ophthalmologists, and a host of other clinical professions. Yet, this condition is easily remedied by accommodating the color distortion by the brain’s visual processing center.

In 1983, Helen Irlen, an educator, clinical therapist and psychologist saw a processing link between behavioral issues, ADHD, atypical dyslexia, and poor academic performers in general. She discovered that colored overlays calmed the symptoms of anxiety, headaches, fatigue, light and sound sensitivity as well as correcting text distortions.

“Irlen Syndrome (also referred to 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.” 1

Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder, a problem with the brain’s ability to process visual information. It tends to run in families and is not currently identified by other standardized educational or medical tests so it is not covered by medical insurance, however, it is scientifically proven with solid research and evidence of positive response to Irlen intervention.

Irlen Syndrome can affect many different areas, including:

  • Academic and work performance

  • Behaviors

  • Attention

  • Ability to sit still

  • Concentration

This problem can manifest in several ways and no two people with Irlen report the same combination of symptoms and therefore, respond to different color overlays. Below are some of the symptoms that are well-treated by Irlen interventions:

  • Eye strain and watery eyes during reading despite wearing glasses

  • sensitivity to light (fluorescent and computer monitors)

  • headaches and anxiety during tasks that require concentration

  • poor depth perception and injuries due to clumsiness

  • problems writing: uneven spaces or lines, missing or migrating letters,

  • problems reading: distortion or movement of letters, atypical dyslexia, poor comprehension

  • fatigue and sleepiness after tasks, especially driving and computer/screen time

  • Poor sports performance (including eye-hand coordination)

  • Math computation and comprehension

If you or someone you know have any of the above symptoms, you owe it to yourself - or them to be screened.

Irlen found that color overlays helped her clients to focus, reduce anxiety, and improved reading skills, relieved headaches and post-brain trauma symptoms. Renown psychologist, Dr. Daniel Amen and neuro-ophthalmologists validate her findings and recommend Irlen screenings.

No brain is the same, so many colors are trialed to find the right fit. The overlays are treated with a special coating and not only are used over computer screens and books, eye-glasses can be custom filtered with the appropriate color for each person.

Your Care Team may - and SHOULD consist of Occupational Therapists

who treat visual processing dysfunctions, but most of the time they will be generalists as we in this profession (depending on the school they attended) will have a good understanding of this problem. To further clarify:

• Generalists treat by providing recommendations for general adaptations (increased lighting, increased contrast, line guides, etc…).

• Specialists treat by training use of residual vision during ADLs, environmental adaptation, compensatory techniques, community reintegration, caregiver training and training w/ optical (prisms, magnifiers) and non-optical devices (assistive technology).

• Technology Specialized Clinicians use specific equipment and tools for remediation, compensation, and adaptation

Occupational therapists (OT) are among the clinical professionals who can become certified in Irlen Syndrome screening and diagnosis. The role of OTs are well-suited to address all the cognitive dysfunctions due to familial Irlen Syndrome as well as acquired Irlen symptoms due to head trauma.

As generalists, OTs are trained to help people of all ages, from NICU (optimally, this is a specialty) to geriatric and end-of-life stages to optimize their independence and quality of life by recommending general adaptations (modification of lighting, contrasts, line guides, and adaptive devices).

As specialists, OTs are trained to teach patients more specific environmental and physical adaptations, compensatory techniques, remediation with optical devices (prisms, magnifiers, and Irlen color overlays).

OTs who are technology specialized such as Irlen certified, collaborate with school OTs and speech therapists to help students to thrive in school and improve their academic performance. They help working professionals to retain their employment and manual artisans to continue producing their craft by providing Irlen screening as well as ergonomic assessments.

People with Irlen Syndrome often report the following:

  • Print looks different

  • Environment looks different

  • Slow or inefficient reading

  • Poor comprehension

  • Mis-read words

  • Eye strain

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Difficulty with math computation

  • Difficulty copying

  • Difficulty reading music

  • Poor sports performance

  • Poor depth-perception

  • Low motivation

  • Low self-esteem

Light Sensitivity:

  • Bothered by glare, fluorescent lights, bright lights, sunlight and sometimes lights at night

  • Some individuals experience physical symptoms and feel tired, sleepy, dizzy, anxious, or irritable. Others experience headaches, mood changes, restlessness or have difficulty staying focused, especially with bright or fluorescent lights.

Teachers and Para-educators will note the following Reading Problems:

  • Poor comprehension

  • Misreads words

  • Problems tracking from line to line

  • Reads in dim light

  • Skips words or lines

  • Reads slowly or hesitantly

  • Takes breaks

  • Loses place

  • Avoids reading


  • Strain and fatigue

  • Tired or sleepy

  • Headaches or nausea

  • Fidgety or restless

  • Eyes that hurt or become watery

Attention and Concentration Problems:

  • Problems with concentration when reading and doing academic tasks

  • Often people can appear to have other conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, and are given medication unnecessarily.

Writing Problems:

  • Trouble copying

  • Unequal spacing

  • Unequal letter size

  • Writing up or downhill

  • Inconsistent spelling

Other Characteristics:

  • Strain or fatigue from computer use

  • Difficulty reading music

  • Sloppy, careless math errors

  • Misaligned numbers in columns

  • Ineffective use of study time

  • Lack of motivation

  • Grades do not reflect the amount of effort

Depth Perception:

  • Clumsiness

  • Difficulty catching balls

  • Difficulty judging distances

  • Additional caution necessary while driving


  • Words on the page lack clarity or stability; i.e., may appear to be blurry, moving, or disappear, among other abnormal reports.

Integrative Therapeutic Solutions has partnered with Irlen Services Northwest, LLC to provide Gig Harbor and surrounding area with the unique collaboration of clinical therapy and Irlen diagnostics. The evaluation is simple two step process and is affordable.

The initial screening is provided by a skilled occupational therapist to determine if Irlen is the indicated therapy using the colored overlays. If the response is positive for scotopic sensitivity, the next step is to be fitted with the correct color of spectral filters (lenses).

Don't put off living your best life, INTEGRATE YOUR LIFE TODAY with help from INTEGRATIVE THERAPEUTIC SOLUTIONS.

Sources: (1)

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