Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses; Does your child have the Irlen Syndrome?  


canstockphoto36775361Cara is a thirteen year old girl who throws up everyday at school. She has been to doctor after doctor, including psychologists and psychiatrists, and all that has been decided is that she is just very anxious about school. She is taking medicine to reduce this stress which just makes her tired and she still vomits each day.

Robert hates reading and although he can do it he refuses and has become a behavior problem whenever he is required to sit down and read. He says the words do weird things on the page and he can’t see them. The eye doctor reports that his vision is fine. He has a list of complaints but his parents suspect he’s making these up to get out of doing his school work.

Neither of these children is either anxious or misbehaving; with a quick test at U CAN LEARN, they were found to have the Irlen Syndrome (previously called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome), a condition within the sight regions of the brain that make reading more difficult and fatiguing. Words can move on the page or flicker. 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.

Both Cara and Robert are now reading and enjoying school for the first time. Both wear Irlen-colored glasses. Cara’s are turquoise-ish gray and Robert’s are purple. The testing revealed that the page spun for Cara and when asked why she never said anything about it, she said, “Because that’s what it has always done. My classmate’s pages spin when I look at their books and they are reading just fine so I thought I was stupid.” Robert reported that the background on the page seemed stronger than the words and he immediately saw white patterns or rivers running down the page so it became work to try to see the words around all of this intrusive information. If they don’t want to wear their colored glasses all of the time, they use Irlen overlays that they put over the printed material to make it calm down and stay still.

The research can be viewed at

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 rule of thumb for seeking help for the stress and fatigue associated with the syndrome is that if it isn’t interfering with school or life, it’s not a problem.

The good news is that children with the Irlen syndrome tend to be more visually astute and a great many of them have a good artistic ability. While reading can be frustrating for a child with the Irlen syndrome, they can shine through the arts such as drawing, graphic design, building and architecture. Under no stretch of the imagination is the use of Irlen colored overlays or colored glasses a cure for dyslexia or reading problems but once this syndrome is identified, reading and academic tutoring and remediation move along at a much faster speed. In addition, some accommodations can be made at school for the newly diagnosed child. They can get preferential seating away from the windows and sit closer to the dry erase board. They can have their tests and worksheets put on colored paper supplied by the family. They can get additional time for projects or reports that require a large amount of reading and they are allowed to use their colored overlays (given to them during the evaluation) in the classroom.

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. What we have seen in recent years is an increase in the number of educators and medical doctors who now have seen the results of treating a child for this syndrome and the willingness to accept this set of symptoms as a true blockage to learning.

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? Or What does it feel like to look at the page?

Rose-colored glasses, or overlays, may be the perfect solution for him.



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