Information for other professionals
Information for Educators
The brain, learning, and Irlen Syndrome
In light of the latest scientific evidence, it is clear that the negative effect of Irlen Syndrome on the learner goes beyond reading. In fact, this dysfunction will affect planning, attention, focus and concentration, all consequences of the hyperactivation of the visual cortex. In many cases, a significant improvement of the behavior can be observed with the use of Irlen Spectral Filters. In severe cases, physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and fatigue accompany this syndrome, especially as the school day progresses.
Common manifestations of Irlen Syndrome
A more frequent manifestation of Irlen Syndrome is the appearance of visual distortions as soon as visual fatigue sets in. This can occur after half an hour, but in severe cases it can happen within a few words. These distortions will limit access to the written text, will reduce the reading rate, and the recall of the text.
Another manifestation is the reduction of the visual span. By visual span, we mean the width of the vision where words can be read without having to move the eye from spot to spot on a page. In the case of many adults, this span may include two or three words which is essential for the production of fluent reading, whereas in the case of an Irlen sufferer, the person will only see a few letters if he or she does not move their eyes.This information makes it easy to imagine how this difficulty, combined with visual distortions, will make copying from the board very difficult and laborious. It is also easy to understand how these same factors will negatively affect handwriting, especially when the blue lines of a notebook become hard to perceive. The most difficult items for a person with Irlen Syndrome to look at is high contrast items i.e. the black print on the white page that make up most reading materials. This makes it easy to understand why someone easily loses his or her place on a page.
Finally, with the added fatigue of the school day, the homework period is often marked by procrastination, delaying tactics and crises. This is typically made worse by the bright lighting that is usually found over most kitchen tables, especially if the light source is the fluorescent or fluorocompact light bulbs that are usually found in most classrooms.
What about autism?
Irlen Spectral Filters will not "cure" autism. However, 84% of all autistic students are also sensitive to light just as they are sensitive to loud noises, strong odors, and being touched. Their light sensitivity is of the same nature as the light sensitivity of an Irlen person, with the expected effects on reading, concentration and focus. The use of Irlen Spectral Filters by the autistic students will help improve their ability to regulate their behavior, as was demonstrated in a recent British study.
So what exactly is Irlen Syndrome?
Irlen syndrome is not a problem of the eye, but of the brain. Optometric interventions will not resolve Irlen Syndrome just as an intervention aimed at Irlen syndrome will not resolve optometric issues. Consequently, Irlen practitioners require that a client have a visual examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist ideally no more than six months prior to an Irlen assessment.
There has been a substantial body of research since the 1980s. The efficacy of Irlen Spectral Filters is supported by more than 100 studies led by independent researchers. These scientists published their results in peer-reviewed, respected professional journals in the fields of education, medicine, and psychology. Among these are the Journal of Learning Disabilities, Australian Journal of Special Education, Perceptual and Motor Skills, Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology, Journal of Research in Reading, Behavioral Optometry, and Ophthalmological and Behavioral Optics. A recent review established that of 62 selected studies, 56 had shown positive results, 45 noted significant improvement in specific reading skills, 11 gave positive results for optical accommodation, improved eye movements and reduced headaches and migraines. Studies are ongoing in Australia, Italy, Brazil, England, Switzerland, and New Zealand.
Key studies are presented below.