Newsday Article

(Copyright Newsday Inc., 1997)

Colorful Cure For a Learning Disability

Note: It was originally Colorful Core For a Learning Disability, but I'm pretty sure that's a typo. It doesn't make much sense at any rate.

By Betty Ommerman

LOOKING THROUGH rose-colored glasses can be more important than you think. So can looking through yellow, gray, blue, orange or green lenses.

These colors aren't only for cosmetic improvement or sun protection. They're prescribed to help reading skills in a case where a person's brain has a problem interpreting light wavelengths, which in turn affects vision.

"It's almost like having problems with a computer," said diagnostician Michael S. Phillips, 25, of New Hyde Park. "There's blurriness, and words sometimes fall off the page. Also, there may be light sensitivity, especially from fluorescent lighting. For some, reading in a dim light may be better than in a bright light. "Some adults and youngsters also find letters interchanging and sentences moving up and down a page. Black letters on a white background also can be an offender."

Phillips is the executive director and primary diagnostician for Perceptual Change Associates, a testing and diagnostic center that treats the disorder known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. The center, at 120 Bethpage Road in Hicksville, opened in March of 1996.

It follows the principles of the Irlen Institute in Long Beach, Calif., which was founded by Helen Irlen, and it is the only center on Long Island that does so, according to Phillips. Irlen, who helped discover the importance of colored lenses for people with the syndrome, has demonstrated her method on several television shows, including "60 minutes" and "World News Tonight."Using colored lenses to improve reading skills has been featured on television in Australia, England and New Zealand, where centers treated more than 50,000 patients last year.

"In my field, I see a lot of children for screening when they do poorly in school," said Stephanie K. Becker, a Hicksville opthalmologist who has sent patients to the center. "Some don't necessarily need glasses or medical intervention." The technique helps children who have mistakenly been labeled as troublemakers who are unwilling to do their work when the problem is that they are unable to, Becker said.

Patricia Ferrara of Hicksville brought her son, Brian, 14, for help last July when the Hicksville Middle School eighth grader had problems reading musical notes. "I play the saxophone and my eyes got tired, and the musical notes became blurred," Brian said. "I now wear dark rose lenses, and the notes stay in place. These lenses also helped me improve my grades, because I didn't have so many headaches and eye strain, and the words stopped dancing off the page."

Reading began bothering Jason Wilans, 21, of Sayville, last year. Wilans is an English major at Hofstra University, from which he expects to graduate in December. He found words developing a halo. "Some words also pulsated forward and slightly back," he said. Using purple and gray overlays for the past six months to test their effectiveness before getting permanent lenses, he found his grades went from C-plus to B. His grades are now wavering between a B-plus and an A, he said.

Free informational meetings are held from two to four times monthly. For further information, call 822-4900, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"This could be a colorful solution to a black-and-white problem," Phillips said.


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