By Keith Gerein, Edmonton Journal - September 25, 2013
Controversial Irlen Syndrome advocate pushes for screening in Alberta
EDMONTON - The Alberta school system should mandate screening for a
little-known neuro-processing disorder, even though much of the medical
community questions its existence, a controversial American researcher told
Helen Irlen, the California-based academic for whom Irlen Syndrome is named,
spoke to a legislature committee debating a contentious bill that would require
teachers who recognize symptoms of the disorder to recommend to parents that a
child be officially tested.
“The majority of the population does not have Irlen Syndrome and so the
symptoms to them make absolutely no sense, and then they can’t believe in it,”
Irlen told committee members. “If the school system doesn’t do it, nobody is
going to do it.”
Irlen Syndrome, also known as scotopic sensitivity or visual stress syndrome,
is described as a neurological problem in which the brain’s capacity to make
sense of visual information is corrupted by an inability to properly process
the light spectrum. The condition is said to produce a variety of symptoms but
is most often noticed through difficulty in reading. Sufferers frequently
complain about letters blurring together or moving around on the page because
of the syndrome, which is said to be often mistaken for dyslexia or attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The issue is treated by wearing custom-made tinted lenses that are formulated
by the Irlen Institute in California.
However, much of the medical and academic community is skeptical about the
condition. The proposed Alberta legislation, known as the Irlen Syndrome
Testing Act, has drawn opposition from optometrists and ophthalmologists, the
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, and others characterizing it as
ill-conceived legislation not backed up by credible scientific evidence.
The Alberta College of Optometrists, which also made a presentation to MLAs
Wednesday, argued the credible research on the subject has found no evidence of
a widespread syndrome and cast serious doubts on the long-term benefits of the
Irlen treatment method. Furthermore, they suggested the bill could be dangerous
in that it might result in a large number of false positive results,
potentially blocking the diagnosis of more common vision or neurological
However, Irlen dismissed such concerns, spending most of her presentation
trying to debunk that research while touting other studies that support the
Irlen Syndrome diagnosis and treatment method.
“You can make research say anything you want it to,” she said.
In a later interview, she acknowledged that such duelling research makes it
difficult for people to know what to believe. But she said the best evidence
comes from parents who have seen their children’s lives changed when they
receive the coloured overlays or lenses that help them overcome their learning
About 15 of those parents and a few children were in the committee room
Wednesday, many of them wearing lenses of blue, orange or grey.
“I’d say that 80 to 90 per cent of the individuals we see come to us to
because they are referred not from professionals but from other parents who
have been helped,” Irlen said.
She said she came to Alberta because the proposed legislation would be
precedent setting for Canada. A similar bill is in the works in
The Alberta bill is sponsored by veteran Progressive Conservative MLA Mary
Anne Jablonski, whose grandson was diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome.
At one point on Wednesday, Jablonski got into a heated exchange with a pair
of optometrists who suggested Irlen Syndrome would suffer the same fate as
other questionable “miracle cures.”
“This is just another little bubble that will go away as other have,” Calgary
optometrists Margaret Penny said.
“You are so wrong,” Jablonski replied.
“It’s not based on science,” Penny shot back.
The Alberta School Boards Association also spoke against the bill, saying the
province should not single out one condition in legislation from other issues
Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
If you want to have Irlen testing added to teacher’s recommendations as a possible intervention for parents to pursue for children who are struggling at school please write your local MLA.
This is urgent as in October the Committee will be deciding whether or not to
defeat Bill 204 or recommend that it go back to the legislature so it can be