Symptoms and Description of Irlen Syndrome

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Irlen Syndrome was initially called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. It was first identified by an Educational Psychologist named Helen Irlen in the 1980's. She wrote a book called "Reading by the Colors" (Avery Press, 1991), to support individuals with Irlen Syndrome. The exact cause of Irlen remains unknown. However, it is believed to originate in the retina of the eye or in the visual cortex of the brain. Individuals with Irlen Syndrome seem to see words that are blurry, have patterns or appear to move on the page. As the individual continues to read, the problem seems to worsen. Colored overlays and filters are used to help individuals with Irlen Syndrome because they sometimes appear to reduce the perceptual distortions and visual stress experienced by some children during reading. Research in this area, however, is quite limited.

Most people are unaware that they have Irlen Syndrome. Irlen syndrome is often confused with an optical problem; however, it is a problem with processing, the inability or weakness in processing visual information. It often runs in families and typically goes misdiagnosed as a learning disability or dyslexia.

Symptoms of Irlen Syndrome

  • Trouble reading words
  • Headache while reading
  • Weaker academic performance
  • Weak concentration
  • Complaints of eye strain while reading
  • Tires while reading
  • Depth perception is much weaker
  • Will also affect math performance
  • Often exhibits sensitivity to lights (especially fluorescent types)
  • Trouble focusing
  • Weak/poor comprehension
  • Difficulty tracking words on a line and will often skip words
  • Reads in a strained word by word fashion and with great hesitancy
  • Avoids reading
  • Weaker written work
  • Trouble copying
  • Random spacing
  • Random letter sizes
  • Writing up or downhill
  • Inconsistent spelling

The reason for all of these symptoms is largely due to the fact that print looks different to individuals with Irlen's Syndrome.

How Can You Help?

  • Dimmer lights
  • Natural lighting appears to help
  • Irlen lenses (colored lenses, colored overlays)
  • Colored paper for reading materials and worksheets
  • Additional time for reading assignments
  • If lights can't be dimmed, individuals should be allowed to wear a visor.
  • Shorten time spent on reading
  • Provide more frequent breaks
  • Allow the child to use a ruler to ease the tracking of words while reading.

It is important to note that Irlen syndrome and visual treatments are unproven and not recognized by the major academic Pediatric Organizations in the US(AAP, AOA, and AAO.). To learn more about Irlen's, you can take a self-test.

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Your Citation
Watson, Sue. "Symptoms and Description of Irlen Syndrome." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Watson, Sue. (2020, August 27). Symptoms and Description of Irlen Syndrome. Retrieved from Watson, Sue. "Symptoms and Description of Irlen Syndrome." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 11, 2021).