I got glasses when I was really little, somewhere around 2 years old. No need to wait to see if I could read from the blackboard in school, apparently I couldn’t see five inches in front of my face. I ping-ponged off walls, completely missed some of the steps on the stairs, and stared off to the side of any speaker’s face, blissfully happy in my blurry world.
Then BLAM! I got glasses.
When people are fitted for hearing aids, we tell them to only wear them for a few hours a day, building up to a full day of usage trying to prevent over-stimulation to the auditory cortex.
Well, my new, pink glasses with their embedded silver sparkles were strapped on my tiny noggin and I wore them every waking minute. I had no idea that things had specific shapes, that the dog had individual pieces of hair or that a coloring book had a purpose. The saying, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ was so true.
I still have that first pair of glasses, but thank goodness contacts were invented.
Visual processing problems present themselves in the same way. A child who sees the words turn wavy on the line, or the text disappears altogether, doesn’t know that this is not the norm. I tested a girl who threw up almost everyday at school. She had been to doctor after doctor, including psychologists and psychiatrists, and all that had been decided was that school made her very anxious. She started taking the medications to reduce stress, so then when she threw up each day, because that didn’t stop, she wasn’t as upset about it.
I diagnosed her with the Irlen Syndrome (previously called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome), a condition within the sight regions of the brain that make reading more difficult and causes fatigue. Words can move on the page, and in this girl’s case, her page spun. It becomes hard for a person with the Irlen Syndrome to shift gaze from different surfaces, for example, from a book to a notebook or from blackboard to paper, without losing their place. It can cause headaches, fatigue and anxiety if not treated. Many people with it report lower energy levels, decreased motivation or depression.
When this girl was asked why she never said anything about the page spinning, she said, “Because that’s what it always does. The other kid’s pages look like they are moving, too. I just thought they were tougher than I was.”
The solution was placing Irlen colored overlays over the printed material to make it calm down and stay still.
Helen Irlen, a reading specialist in Long Beach, CA, discovered the Irlen Syndrome while working on her dissertation. Now with over fifty different research studies world-wide, the Irlen Syndrome has been proven to interfere with reading, writing, focused attention and to cause stress and fatigue in visual activities. The research can be viewed at www.Irlen.com.
The symptoms of the Irlen syndrome can look like other problems, in particular ADD or ADHD. If the words are moving on the page, a child is not going to spend a lot of time reading or trying to read. Some of the common symptoms of the syndrome are:
A child may skip words or lines, misread words, repeat or reread lines, demonstrate slow, choppy reading, need lots of breaks, rub their eyes, complain of tiredness or eye strain, fall asleep while reading, experience headaches or dizziness from visual activities, have a hard time comprehending or remembering what they’ve just read, become bothered by bright lights or read from the page with it turned at an odd angle.
The Irlen syndrome affects 15% of the general population but in struggling readers, it is 46%. There is a strong genetic component and we often find that several children in a family can have it but at varying degrees of severity.
The Irlen syndrome has baffled educators and scientists in the past. It seemed too easy a solution to throw some colored sheets over the page and then a child started reading. It still remains undetected by standard educational or medical tests.
Understanding that the Irlen syndrome may be a piece of the puzzle in a child’s academic struggles is the first step. Asking the right questions is the second. The next time your child balks at sitting down to read, instead of asking him why he won’t read, you should ask him, ‘What happens when you look at the page?
I’ll bet if my parent’s had asked me, “Can you take your doll to daddy?’ I would have said, “Which blurry thing is daddy?”
(reprinted with permission from Karla’s blog, The Learning Hawk.com)