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Irlen Syndrome
(Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome)

by Rebecca Madl

Perspectives from a woman with Irlen syndrome. Reflections on her life and the lives of her two sons with Irlen syndrome.

Do you have an intelligent child who appears to be lazy or not care about school? Is it like pulling teeth to get him to read? Is his handwriting poor? When I was growing up, I frequently heard my parents and teachers say that I was lazy, didn't care about school, or was just interested in other things. These were the excuses they gave for why I didn't achieve up to my full abilities in school.

None of these excuses were the case; rather it was a situation in which I couldn't seem to see what the words were saying. And, I couldn't seem to get my parents to understand that I couldn't' focus on the words. The words seemed to squish together and the background changed from white to dark blue or purple. Sometimes the paper would be so white that it felt blinding. It was especially bad if I was asked to read from a magazine or under florescent lighting. While it wasn't true that I was lazy or didn't care, there was a problem. I had undiagnosed Irlen or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. Irlen Syndrome is a disorder that causes distortions in what we see. The distortions affect everything we see, however, they are the most noticeable in reading. Black words on white paper are the most difficult to decipher.

The distortions may be as simple as those I just describe, to as extreme as the words seemingly partying on the page. My son is also a sufferer of Irlen Syndrome. He is more extreme then I, and also suffers from Dyslexia. He complains that the words jump around, the background changes to multiple colors which often move as he reads, bright or white paper seems to be blinding, the letters or words may slide from one part of the page to another as he reads. In addition, words may fade in and out or mesh with borders or objects printed on the page. The punctuation may appear to fall into a vortex while the letters appear to be pushed away. At one time he told me, "Mama, the letters just seem to crawl off the page."

The symptoms of Irlen Syndrome can range from mild to extreme, too. A child with Irlen Syndrome often can read, however, they seldom enjoy the practice. Symptoms will manifest themselves as possible vision problems, but won't go away with glasses. Another complaint I often had and heard repeated by my son was that although I had new glasses, I still couldn't "focus" on the words. Symptoms may be seen as:

* The child squirms as they read. Often changing the direction of their head or the book.

* The child seems to over look words as they read, skipping them either partially or entirely.

* As they read, the child, makes two words into one, i.e. 'they were' becomes 'there'

* Child may squint or move closer to the book in an effort to see the word.

* The child adds words to their reading, or changes the words to others that mean the same, but are completely different.

* The child looks away from the words frequently as they read. This is an effort to refocus and stop the movement of the words.

* Reading becomes more difficult as the child reads. At first seeming easy or natural, but as the page progresses the fluidity is lost.

Symptoms may become more prevalent as the child moves into more difficult books. Books that are all text are the most difficult to decipher. The sufferer of Irlen Syndrome must fight the distortions harder if there are no pictures to break up the reading, or if the words are small and close together. Books with large print are beneficial.

A child with Ilene Syndrome will often have an easier time reading in a poorly lit area. If your child wants to do his homework in the darkest corner of the house, or of his room, it may be the best place for him. Bright lights cause the distortions to be more severe. If you suspect your child has Irlen Syndrome, it is best to have them tested. Testing will verify the presence of Irlen Syndrome and will open the door to correcting what is seen. If Irlen Syndrome is present, the distortions can be stopped with the use of a colored film over the paper, or by tinting the sufferer's glasses. The color of the film or of the tint on the glasses will depend on the individual. Testing can be done by the local school district, although my experience has revealed that many educators are unfamiliar with this syndrome. If your child's school doesn't test for Irlen Syndrome contact the Irlen Clinic in your area. To receive a listing of clinics in your state, contact the Irlen Institute at (213) 496-2550.

 For more information on Irlen or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome and it's affects, I recommend reading, "Reading By The Colors", by Helen Irlen.

Kathie F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher and speaker living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the Layered Curriculum® method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has authored several books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability classrooms and other problems facing today's teachers. Full references and additional teaching and parental tips are available at: http://Help4Teachers.com Email her:
Kathie (at) brains.org



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