If you have a child with an IEP, gets headaches, or gets tired after reading, reports distorted pages or floating letters, you owe it to him/her to read this article and investigate a non-medical solution. Chances are, your child is more capable than she or he performs due to symptoms of a sensory processing disorder not widely known by pediatricians, optometrists, ophthalmologists, and a host of other clinical professions. Yet, this condition is easily remedied by accommodating the color distortion by the brain’s visual processing center.
In 1983, Helen Irlen, an educator, clinical therapist and psychologist saw a processing link between behavioral issues, ADHD, atypical dyslexia, and poor academic performers in general. She discovered that colored overlays calmed the symptoms of anxiety, headaches, fatigue, light and sound sensitivity as well as correcting text distortions.
“Irlen Syndrome (also referred to as Meares-Irlen Syndrome, Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, and Visual Stress) is a perceptual processing disorder. It is not an optical problem. It is a problem with the brain’s ability to process visual information. This problem tends to run in families and is not currently identified by other standardized educational or medical tests.” 1
Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder, a problem with the brain’s ability to process visual information. It tends to run in families and is not currently identified by other standardized educational or medical tests so it is not covered by medical insurance, however, it is scientifically proven with solid research and evidence of positive response to Irlen intervention.
Irlen Syndrome can affect many different areas, including:
Academic and work performance
Ability to sit still
This problem can manifest in several ways and no two people with Irlen report the same combination of symptoms and therefore, respond to different color overlays. Below are some of the symptoms that are well-treated by Irlen interventions:
Eye strain and watery eyes during reading despite wearing glasses
sensitivity to light (fluorescent and computer monitors)
headaches and anxiety during tasks that require concentration
poor depth perception and injuries due to clumsiness
problems writing: uneven spaces or lines, missing or migrating letters,
problems reading: distortion or movement of letters, atypical dyslexia, poor comprehension
fatigue and sleepiness after tasks, especially driving and computer/screen time
Poor sports performance (including eye-hand coordination)
Math computation and comprehension
If you or someone you know have any of the above symptoms, you owe it to yourself - or them to be screened.
Irlen found that color overlays helped her clients to focus, reduce anxiety, and improved reading skills, relieved headaches and post-brain trauma symptoms. Renown psychologist, Dr. Daniel Amen and neuro-ophthalmologists validate her findings and recommend Irlen screenings.
No brain is the same, so many colors are trialed to find the right fit. The overlays are treated with a special coating and not only are used over computer screens and books, eye-glasses can be custom filtered with the appropriate color for each person.
Your Care Team may - and SHOULD consist of Occupational Therapists
who treat visual processing dysfunctions, but most of the time they will be generalists as we in this profession (depending on the school they attended) will have a good understanding of this problem. To further clarify:
• Generalists treat by providing recommendations for general adaptations (increased lighting, increased contrast, line guides, etc…).
• Specialists treat by training use of residual vision during ADLs, environmental adaptation, compensatory techniques, community reintegration, caregiver training and training w/ optical (prisms, magnifiers) and non-optical devices (assistive technology).
• Technology Specialized Clinicians use specific equipment and tools for remediation, compensation, and adaptation
Occupational therapists (OT) are among the clinical professionals who can become certified in Irlen Syndrome screening and diagnosis. The role of OTs are well-suited to address all the cognitive dysfunctions due to familial Irlen Syndrome as well as acquired Irlen symptoms due to head trauma.
As generalists, OTs are trained to help people of all ages, from NICU (optimally, this is a specialty) to geriatric and end-of-life stages to optimize their independence and quality of life by recommending general adaptations (modification of lighting, contrasts, line guides, and adaptive devices).
As specialists, OTs are trained to teach patients more specific environmental and physical adaptations, compensatory techniques, remediation with optical devices (prisms, magnifiers, and Irlen color overlays).
OTs who are technology specialized such as Irlen certified, collaborate with school OTs and speech therapists to help students to thrive in school and improve their academic performance. They help working professionals to retain their employment and manual artisans to continue producing their craft by providing Irlen screening as well as ergonomic assessments.
People with Irlen Syndrome often report the following:
Print looks different
Environment looks different
Slow or inefficient reading
Difficulty with math computation
Difficulty reading music
Poor sports performance
Bothered by glare, fluorescent lights, bright lights, sunlight and sometimes lights at night
Some individuals experience physical symptoms and feel tired, sleepy, dizzy, anxious, or irritable. Others experience headaches, mood changes, restlessness or have difficulty staying focused, especially with bright or fluorescent lights.
Teachers and Para-educators will note the following Reading Problems:
Problems tracking from line to line
Reads in dim light
Skips words or lines
Reads slowly or hesitantly
Strain and fatigue
Tired or sleepy
Headaches or nausea
Fidgety or restless
Eyes that hurt or become watery
Attention and Concentration Problems:
Problems with concentration when reading and doing academic tasks
Often people can appear to have other conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, and are given medication unnecessarily.
Unequal letter size
Writing up or downhill
Strain or fatigue from computer use
Difficulty reading music
Sloppy, careless math errors
Misaligned numbers in columns
Ineffective use of study time
Lack of motivation
Grades do not reflect the amount of effort
Difficulty catching balls
Difficulty judging distances
Additional caution necessary while driving
Words on the page lack clarity or stability; i.e., may appear to be blurry, moving, or disappear, among other abnormal reports.
Integrative Therapeutic Solutions has partnered with Irlen Services Northwest, LLC to provide Gig Harbor and surrounding area with the unique collaboration of clinical therapy and Irlen diagnostics. The evaluation is simple two step process and is affordable.
The initial screening is provided by a skilled occupational therapist to determine if Irlen is the indicated therapy using the colored overlays. If the response is positive for scotopic sensitivity, the next step is to be fitted with the correct color of spectral filters (lenses).
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