St. Cloud Times Editorial

(St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, Minn., June 5, 2002) - Link to the St. Cloud Times archives. If you follow that link it'll want you to buy the article, but the full article is reprinted below.

Irlen Syndrome causes reading problems, headaches or strain

By Jeffrey J. Evans

    All students who have reading problems should be screened for Irlen Syndrome before parents and educators commit money and time to other treatments or tutoring.

Some 10 to 12 percent of the general population has Irlen Syndrome, a visual perceptual problem, and half of problem readers have it. Fortunately Irlen Syndrome is easy to diagnose with the Irlen Institute’s systematic test… and it’s relatively cheap to treat using special colored overlays or special tinted Irlen lenses or contacts.

Irlen Syndrome doesn’t affect everyone the same way.  Some sufferers are “poor readers”--they don’t like reading, read slowly, make mistakes and don’t understand what they’ve just read because they were too busy just trying to see the words. Some are labeled “dyslexic.”

For others, light sensitivity is the key symptom--they need sunglasses, dislike bright computer screens, dislike bright or fluorescent lights and can’t stand lights when driving at night.  Some sufferers have depth perception problems and are clumsy at sports.

Others with Irlen Syndrome are “good readers” but put so much effort into their reading that they get frequent eyestrain, headaches/ migraines or fatigue.  Some “good readers” compensate by taking frequent breaks or reading in dim light. Most people with the syndrome don’t realize they see differently than other people. 

The syndrome appears to be a defect in one of the pathways that carry messages from the eye to the brain.  Filtering out specific wavelengths of light--with individually prescribed overlays or tinted Irlen lenses--helps the pathway function normally.  Irlen Syndrome, sometimes known as scotopic sensitivity, has nothing to do with “20-20 vision” and is not detected by standard visual, educational and medical tests. While it is known in other parts of the country and world, the syndrome is not well known in Minnesota.

Fluorescent lights in schools and workplaces create a glare on white paper, making it especially hard for sufferers to read, comprehend and sit still.  The Irlen Institute believes a third of the children labeled with “attention “ problems may have Irlen Syndrome.  

Symptoms become worse with small print and the longer one reads. Thus problems may appear in third or fourth grade when print is smaller and assignments are longer.                

If a person has Irlen Syndrome, it is usually obvious during screening. When the right color filters (overlays) are used, the improvement in a person’s reading speed and accuracy can be immediate and dramatic. As one Dade County, Florida, specialist put it: “I have not witnessed any other educational technique that has had such an immediate impact on an individual’s reading ability.”

Using overlays is cheap and helps with reading. But the best treatment is wearing tinted Irlen lenses or contacts to filter light for all visual tasks, including reading the board, writing, doing math, driving and playing sports. Certified Irlen screeners or diagnosticians should choose filters because using the wrong colors can result in headaches, eyestrain and more visual distortions.

In a pilot project funded by the Massachusetts legislature and Department of Education, children diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome saw average gains of 2.6 years in accuracy and 2.3 years in comprehension in just three months while using Irlen colored overlays. 

For some, Irlen Syndrome is THE cause of their reading and learning problems.  For others, the syndrome is just one piece of the puzzle.

More than 50 articles related to Irlen Syndrome have been published in professional journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of Learning Disabilities.  The syndrome and its treatment have been featured on TV shows including “60 Minutes,” and “Good Morning, America,” and in print media including National Geographic. 

Many school systems have Irlen screeners. In some school systems, all students referred for special education must be screened for this syndrome. There are more than 80 Irlen diagnostic centers around the world.  Irlen Syndrome is recognized by Recordings for the Blind, college testing organizations (ACT, SAT) and other organizations.  

Irlen Syndrome is found equally in boys and girls. Some people seem to inherit it. Others develop it after a whiplash or brain injury or health change. It gets worse during adolescence and menopause.  Some persons with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and light-induced seizures have it.

Currently, there are only about 60 Irlen screeners in Minnesota, most within Twin Cities schools.  Clearly, Minnesota educators, parents and legislators need to become more aware of this syndrome. Treatment would not only help affected students be more successful in school and affected employees be more successful at work. It would cut special education costs, increase graduation rates, cut down on unemployment, improve the quality and productivity of the workforce and cut down on sick time from headaches/migraines. The cost of screening and treatment pales in comparison to the benefits to individuals and society.

 Jeffrey J. Evans is a Bloomington, MN, Speech-Language Pathologist and certified Irlen screener. He may be contacted at 952-888-7699 or evans.jeffrey@gmail.com. The Irlen Institute website: www.irlen.com 

  For info on Irlen Syndrome, contact Julie or Jeff Evans, certified Irlen screeners, (952) 888-7699.

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