Denver Post Article

Copyright Denver Post Jun 26, 1999

Colored glasses give teen new outlook on life, school

Little- known visual syndrome is easily corrected

By Matt Hansen Jackson Hole Guide

JACKSON, Wyo. - Emily Holden had just about given up on reading.

She wasn't happy, and nobody believed her when she said words would move around while she read.

Holden had gone through life accepting the fact that she wasn't a good reader and that, since she had 20-20 vision, her eyesight could not be corrected. It was just something she had decided to live with.

"I didn't do very much at all," the 14-year-old said. "It was hard for me because everyone was reading at a faster pace. When I was in sixth grade I never did any work and I always had a pile of work to do. I would just sit in my own little corner."

She said her motivation to read was gone.

"I just kind of let that part of me go," Holden said.

But in January she was diagnosed with Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, a form of visual dyslexia that prevents the eyes from tracking words on a page.

By simply changing the color that enters her eyes via a pair of special glasses or overlays, Holden now reads without headaches and without embarrassment.

"My grades have gone up. I moved up to a higher math class," Holden said. "Life is just a little easier."

Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, also known as Irlen Syndrome, is a perceptual problem that prevents an estimated 10 to 12 percent of the population from being able to learn, read or study efficiently, according to documentation from the Irlen Clinic in Fort Collins.

Until recently it remained undetected by standard educational, visual and medical tests. The symptoms can be any of the following: light sensitivity, inefficient reading, slow reading rate, attention deficit, strain or fatigue from reading and poor depth perception.

The syndrome was discovered by Helen Irlen, executive director of the Irlen Institute in Long Beach, Calif., in the early 1980s.

She found that some people who had trouble reading were helped by placing colored overlays on words. Different colors worked for different people.

Now there are glasses that people can wear that help their visual perception.

While at the Irlen Clinic of Fort Collins in January, Holden went through a series of strenuous eye tests. The clinic had her read half of a magazine article without the overlays and then try to remember what she had just read. She couldn't.

Then she read the second half of the page with the overlays and could remember everything.

"That was really hard because my eyes had never worked that hard before. But the overlays made the words easy to see, and I was, like, 'wow,'" Holden said.

As Holden went through her reading struggles she would try to tell people that, for one, she didn't have attention-deficit disorder and, secondly, that she wasn't crazy.

But nobody believed that she saw words with shadows and that letters on a keyboard would jump out at her.

"Would you believe it if you had never seen it before?" she asked.

Now that her disability has been identified she wears glasses that have a purple tint. "Now that I have glasses I look forward to coming to school every day," Holden said.


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