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Reading Woes? It Could Be Irlen Syndrome

by Internet4classrooms.com

Internet4Classrooms is pleased to feature Rich Mintzer as a guest writer this month as we highlight Exceptional Children and Irlen Syndrome.

Rich Mintzer is an author and journalist with over 50 published non-fiction books, many as a ghostwriter and articles on various websites. He also writes book proposals for new authors and edits their work.  In the course of working with Helen Irlen on her latest book, The Irlen Revolution, he became fascinated with the work being done to help children read who had struggled, some of whom had spent years in special education classes.  A staunch believer in Helen Irlen’s work, they have become friends over the years and Rich always takes the opportunity to write about Irlen Syndrome to let parents and educators learn more about this little known perceptual disorder.  Rich lives in Westchester New York with his wife and their two teenagers. You can visit his website at www.richmintzer.com.

Read on to learn about a reading disorder you may be unfamiliar with.

Reading Woes? It Could be Irlen Syndrome
by Rich Mintzer

Learning to read is a rite of passage into a literary world that opens many doors to a world of knowledge, discovery, fantasy and fun. But what is it like for those who struggle, who can’t read at grade level or, in some cases, can barely read at all? For some, repetition and phonics make a difference, while others benefit from glasses to solve vision problems. But what about those whose problems are neither cognitive or visual?

Many of these struggling readers have what is called Irlen Syndrome (a.k.a. Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome). It is a visual processing disorder that results in words, letters and numbers moving around or bunching together on the page making reading a major challenge. It is akin to looking at an optical illusion, which appears to be moving in front of your eyes, but isn’t. It is also a problem that flies below the radar because it does not show up on standardized tests.  And yet, it can be corrected through the use of colored overlays and/or wearing colored lenses.  However, since everyone is unique, the colors, or color combinations will vary greatly from one person to the next.

In the past 20-years, since former school psychologist and researcher Helen Irlen found that many people were struggling to read because of this particular perceptual disorder, some 8,000 educators have been trained to recognize Irlen Syndrome and millions of children have benefited from colored overlays, not only in the United States, but as far away as New Zealand and Australia.  Unfortunately, the numbers are just a drop in the bucket.  As a result, the parents of many children never learn about Irlen Syndrome.

So, What Can Educators Do?

The hope is that you can, with the support of your school, get a better idea of which youngsters might benefit from testing for Irlen Syndrome.  Testing is completely non-invasive and, not unlike an eye-test, is all about the child telling the tester, or screener, what he or she sees during the testing process.  In fact, parents are encouraged to take the tests along with their children not only for support but because Irlen Syndrome is hereditary, and they too might benefit from overlays or filters.

When it comes to observing possible candidates for Irlen testing, Kristina Uribe,Third Grade Language Arts/Social Studies teacher and Dyslexia Specialist, from the Bethune Academy in Aldine, Texas says that observation is very important. “I watch students very closely so see who avoids or refuses to read. Very often their body language gives me clues. They might be very restless in their seats, look up from their books soon after they started reading to the point that they do not go back to the book. Eye rubbing is another symptom that can be observed easily," says Uribe.

“Kids have a posture when taking tests, they usually lean into their work. A student who might need to be screened will have his hand to his brow, wear a visor or use his hand to shade his paper. I also look for kids who want to work but seem like they are working twice as hard as others in class,” says Monica Rice who teaches the sixth grade Beaumont, California.

Nancy Menn, a special ed teacher and Irlen Screener in Wisconsin takes the straight forward approach and asks students if the print changes after they read for a while, if the letters get blurry or move on the page, or if the page seemed too bright. “Some students look at me as if I’m crazy, and with others you see the light bulb go on and they talk a mile a minute about what was going on when they read,” says Menn, who has witnessed a number of students improve greatly with overlays and Irlen filters.

“I try to identify students whose verbal reasoning appears well above what they are able to produce in written form.  I also identify students who are acquiring reading skills/ spelling skills or math skills at a slow pace,” says Julie Stowe, Junior School Teacher at Green Point Christian College in Kincumber, New South Wales.


The goal of getting children tested, however, would not have much credibility if it weren’t for the stunning results.  “I get wonderful responses from the kids that use the colored overlays says Tina Cutler, Program Manager (Social Worker) for Community and Employment Programs Group in Toronto, Ontario. "I can read, I feel smart!" "I can see the whole sentence." "The black dots are gone!" "The page is calmer!" "The letters have stopped moving!"  These are just some of the affirming responses Tina has heard from students with colored overlays.

Meanwhile, Julie Yepson, a grade school teacher at Antioch school district 34 in Antioch, Illinois notices more students reading for pleasure whereas the same students didn't often like to read before using the overlays. “Three students that reported headaches when reading no longer have headaches and students that felt nauseous when reading no longer feel that way either,” add Yepsen. In fact, one student proclaimed, "Mrs. Yepsen, you have no idea how much this is going to help me!" upon receiving her overlays.

Tarena Berry, a counselor at Calvert Elementary School in Houston, Texas also trained to become an Irlen Screener, “Immediate results are seen,” says Berry. “When I took the training to become an Irlen Screener, I didn't realize what impact it would have. When I tested my first student, I could see at that moment how relevant and valuable the process is."

The overlays are just part of the ongoing solution, since reading is not only on the paper but in all facets of life.  From computer screens to mobile phones to street signs, Irlen filters are typically the next step, allowing those who have struggled with words and letters to embrace the written and printed word and no longer struggle to read.

For more on Irlen Syndrome, visit www.irlen.com and/or pick up Helen Irlen’s latest bookThe Irlen Revolution.

Rich also recommends a very informative video done by a teenager who has Irlen Syndrome. Here's an 8 minute glance into what it's like to live with Irlen Syndrome and the many ways to help manage the symptoms.

                                            Video by DavidAccola linked from YouTube.com.



Internet4classrooms is a collaborative effort by Susan Brooks and Bill Byles.




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