Understanding Students with Irlen Syndrome

A boy struggling to read

In light of the latest scientific evidence, it is clear that the negative effect of Irlen Syndrome on the student 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.

Manifestations of Irlen Syndrome

Pen and Math Problem

A common 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, reduce the reading rate, and the recollection of the information.

Visual Span

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.

Fatigue Factor

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.

An example of distorted writing as seen by Irlen Syndrome Clients

Irlen Products to Help Students

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Help for the Student with Irlen Syndrome

  • Students with Irlen Syndrome are particularly sensitive to overhead fluorescent light and to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Seating the student near a window allows them to benefit from the natural light
  • Place the student in a darker area of the room to read, or turn down the lights if possible
  • Allow the student to wear sunglasses or a ball cap in class to reduce the amount of direct light entering the eyes
  • Overhead projectors emit a very intense light. Ensure that the student is seated away from the light at a 45 degree angle and whenever possible, present the text on coloured slides instead of a pure white background
  • Computer screens can also be problematic; ask the computer technician at your school to install “Screen Tinter Lite”, which is a free software program that allows the student to colour the background of Microsoft Office software such as Word. This program may not work on internet pages
  • Suggest to parents that they bring the student to an optometrist to rule out any underlying physical problems
  • Avoid having busy, high contrast or cluttered presentation areas.
  • Give the student extra time to read, as this may be necessary for them to gain a full understanding of the text
  • Students with Irlen Syndrome find that they can perform better when using coloured paper. Test the student for which colour is preferred and use this when giving tests and photocopied reading material
  • Allow the student to use a ruler or finger as a guide as they read
  • Allow time for the student to rest their eyes, which may reduce the frequency and severity of headaches and fatigue
  • Encourage the student to use a voice-recorder to record their notes, which will reduce the need to read while studying
  • Avoid requiring the student to copy notes from the chalkboard. This is an extremely difficult task for students with Irlen Syndrome
  • Be aware that the student may have difficulty with depth perception (i.e. difficulty catching a ball; may frequently bump into things)
  • Graph paper (can be photocopied on coloured paper), such as that used in mathematics, can cause visual distortions in students with Irlen Syndrome. Use only with care
  • Avoid “serif-type” fonts such as Times New Roman; Arial or Verdana are easier for the student to read
  • Avoid characters that are too small or text that is too dense
  • Encourage the use of the student’s Irlen® filters if they have been prescribed
  • Discourage the negative attitudes and comments of other students. Encourage open discussion about Irlen Syndrome and the ways in which classmates can assist the affected student

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