Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Irlen Syndrome: Who Knew?!

Learning Tip#2 addresses the little known "Irlen Syndrome". Two members of the LS team have collaborated this time: Lis Johnston brings you some research, background and links on Irlen's and Krista Barney shares from her and her husband's personal experience with Irlen's.

I trust this information will find it's way to those who will benefit from it and thank Krista and Lis for researching and sharing with us. If you read through these articles and feel your child is dealing with Irlen Syndrome, we have provided you with lots of links and contacts to get started.

As always, if you want someone to walk along side you on the journey, please feel free to contact Learning Services through your individual teacher.

Warm Regards,


Carmen Timmermans
Learning Services Administrator
Heritage Christian Online School

Irlen Syndrome: Up Close and Personal

By: Krista Barney, Learning Services Curriculum Consultant

Sometimes - we could even say - "most often" - we don’t need an official diagnosis to help someone cope with difficulties. Even though we like to get to the root of the problem, we still need to cope in the meantime. If we know the difficulties, then sometimes we can "pretend" that they’ve been diagnosed and use the strategies given for that particular diagnosis.

For example, my husband in his 4th year university was finally helped by the learning assistance teacher at the local college. Even though we didn’t have an official diagnosis of any kind, we knew from reading an article on Dyslexia that he probably had something along those lines.

I remember reading the article aloud to him (not because he can’t read but because I’d be finished the article in the time it took him to read the first paragraph) and we were discussing things as we went. I remember being amazed at how some people can look at a page of words and they see the words move on the page as if “the wave” had moved through a crowd at a sporting event. I said to him, “Wow, it is amazing that those people ever learn to read.” And, he said, “What?!? The words don’t do that for you??”

I looked at him in total astonishment, as all his reading frustrations over his lifetime, finally became an “ah-ha” moment! I answered, “No, the words don’t move for me unless I’m really tired and then my eyes sometimes blur them. Words moving across the page like a wave, is not normal.”

And so began our journey into the world of finding a coping strategy that would help him finish his final year of electrical apprenticeship that was already taking way too long with a lot of frustration. The local college learning assistance teacher was very kind and was probably the only person who has ever truly helped him get through his schooling. She didn’t need a diagnosis to help him. She used her knowledge, and treated him per se without ever officially diagnosing or labeling.

The Learning Assistance teacher gave him blue and yellow overhead sheets to use over top of his page whenever he had to read something. She discussed with him and his teachers that he should have his tests photocopied onto blue paper, and that if he could afford them, that a pair of yellow tinted glasses would help him cope in situations where he couldn’t control the lighting or reflection of light off a piece of paper.

We did as she suggested regarding things on blue paper, used the overlays for reading textbooks, and even bought what my husband referred to as his “happy glasses”--they turned his world yellow and made him feel relaxed. She never once mentioned to us that she was using strategies for a light disorder called Irlen Syndrome.

It wasn’t until a few years later at our first Learning Services meeting, that I learned from one of the team about this disorder called Irlen Syndrome that often gets misinterpreted as Dyslexia, ADHD, and the like—all have major issues with focus, behavior, hypersensitivity to environment, and reading.

The website that has a demo of what my husband was seeing is From the website, we learned that he had a “Seesaw Distortion” and took the self-test just for fun...because really, he made it through his apprenticeship with the highest marks he had ever seen on a report card with his name on it—well, that is, highest marks outside of PE. :)

So here is to all my hard working colleagues who are trying their best to find the needle in the haystack of root causes, and to help our students cope in the meantime. Well done!

Irlen Syndrome: Just the Fact, Ma'am

By: Lis Johnston, Learning Services Consultant

Do you know of someone who struggles with light sensitivities that affect their ability to deal with words? They may be bothered by sunlight or fluorescent lights, be bothered by a glare on pages, see words fuzzily, suffer from frequent headaches, skip words or lines, lose their place when reading and writing, or experience other complications. If so, it is possible that this person has Irlen’s Syndrome, otherwise known as Scotopic Sensitivity.

Surprisingly, Irlen Syndrome is not a problem with sight; instead, it is a problem with how the brain processes information. Many people who have Irlen are misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD, dyslexia and other issues that share the same symptoms. To further complicate things, about 65% of those with Irlen Syndrome also have dyslexia and it is possible that a large percentage of children who struggle with autism and Aspergers might also have Irlen’s. It is important for educators to rule out Irlen Syndrome when dealing with children that struggle with reading, writing, attention, sensory, and behavioural issues.

Irlen Syndrome can cause reading problems that include tracking difficulties, skipped words, and other contributors to poor comprehension. It also tends to cause reluctance to read or a preference to read in dim light. Writers may struggle with writing in the proper space, improper letter formation, and weak spelling skills. Generally, the person may be irritable, distractible, and experience frequent headaches.

Irlen’s seems to run in families and it typically isn’t diagnosed by common medical and educational tests. The good news is that it can be treated with the use of colored overlays and/or glasses and proper lighting, as well as other resources. Diagnosis and treatment, including identifying the required colour of glasses and overlays, is done by a professional certified and trained in the Irlen Method.

Websites/youtube clips for more information:

List of BC Irlen Diagnosticians/Screeners:

Bonnie Williams, Kelowna, 250-808-6192, ,, Diagnostician

Sylvia Lloyd: Langley, British Columbia, 604-454-8238

Russell Work: Oliver, 250-498-4350,, Screener

Pat Everatt, South Okanagan, 250-809-8098,

Beverly McKay, Victoria, 250-744-3302,

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