Irlen Syndrome – fact or fiction?

Irlen Syndrome – fact or fiction?

Yesterday Jessica arrived for her dyslexia lesson.  She had remembered to bring her pale green overlay to her lesson.  I was pleased because we often spend part of our lesson reading from a book of her choice.

Jessica is dyslexic.  She also suffers from Irlen Syndrome – or Visual Stress.

I am very short-sighted.  I got my first pair of glasses when I was 14.  It was a revelation! I never knew my fuzzy view of the world wasn’t what everyone else sees! We all think we see things the same way – and it’s the same when it comes to reading.  We all think we see words in groups or phrases.  We all think that print is more dominant than the background.  We think that words and lines are evenly spaced.  We certainly don’t think words can move!

It is thought that 35-40% of people with dyslexia also have Irlen Syndrome or Visual Stress.

Irlen Syndrome can affect the way people “see” words on the page.  It is nothing to do with poor eyesight. It is thought to be a problem with the brain’s ability to process visual information. Irlen Syndrome is a separate thing from dyslexia.  These are two different problems.

What is Irlen Syndrome?

Irlen Syndrome may cause distortions of the text on the page.  Words may move in various ways.  Words can fade, disappear, swirl or blur.  Letters and words may float, fade, change size or become 3D.  Lines of words may wave or split into rivers running down the page.  Have a look on for examples of distortions.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be to read when faced with these problems? How difficult it would be to take in what you are reading?

Irlens Syndrome has been linked to lots of problems such as headaches and migraines, physical discomfort and behavioural issues or underachievement at school.

So is Irlen Syndrome “a thing”?

In the 1980’s, Helen Irlen claimed that filtering out certain frequencies of light using coloured lenses would allow the brain to process visual information more easily and relieve some of the symptoms of Visual Stress.

It seems like a very simple idea, doesn’t it? Indeed, a whole business was launched and continues to prosper on the back of Helen Irlen’s claims.  Today, every school has a number of children who use either coloured overlays or coloured lenses in glasses to help them read.

But the controversy surrounding Irlen Syndrome continues.  Investigations in the 1990’s suggested that much of Helen Irlen’s evidence was unpublished and difficult to obtain and there was little scientific support for Irlen’s concept.  Evaluations of the lenses did not support their use as an intervention for children with reading difficulties.  Indeed, studies suggested a strong placebo effect.

Back to Jessica and her pale green overlay.  I know that Jessica’s reading improves when she uses her overlay.  She reads more accurately and more fluently.  Fact or fiction, placebo or nocebo, surely anything that can help give a child the confidence to read is worthwhile?

Does your child use an overlay or coloured lenses to help him read? Does an overlay improve your child’s reading?

Posted in Dyslexia News

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