• Irlen Syndrome
    (Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome)

    Irlen Syndrome is not an optical problem. It is a problem with the brain's ability to process visual information, especially with high contrast images such as black lettering on white paper. It is exaggerated by the light spectrum given off by fluorescent lighting.

    It is very easily remediated by using a tinted overlay that changes the color of images "seen" by the brain. For more detailed information, see the Irlen website at http://irlen.com/

    Due to a lack of peer-reviewed studies about Irlen Syndrome, Pearland ISD no longer screens for this condition. Any student may use tinted overlays both in class and on STAAR tests without the need for formal documentation on a 504 Plan or IEP.


    Perspectives from a woman with Irlen syndrome. Reflections on her life and the lives of her two sons with Irlen syndrome. Courtesy of Rebecca Madl, http://www.help4teachers.com/irlen.htm

    Do you have an intelligent child who appears to be lazy or not care about school? Is it like pulling teeth to get him to read? Is his handwriting poor? When I was growing up, I frequently heard my parents and teachers say that I was lazy, didn't care about school, or was just interested in other things. These were the excuses they gave for why I didn't achieve up to my full abilities in school.

    None of these excuses were the case; rather, I couldn't seem to see what the words were saying. The words seemed to squish together and the background changed from white to dark blue or purple. Sometimes the paper would be so white that it felt blinding. I had undiagnosed Irlen or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, a disorder that causes distortions in what we see. Black words on white paper, especially under fluorescent lights, are the most difficult to decipher.

    My son is also a sufferer of Irlen Syndrome. He is more extreme then I, and also suffers from Dyslexia. He complains that the words jump around, the background changes to multiple colors which often move as he reads, bright or white paper seems to be blinding, the letters or words may slide from one part of the page to another as he reads. In addition, words may fade in and out or mesh with borders or objects printed on the page. The punctuation may appear to fall into a vortex while the letters appear to be pushed away. At one time he told me, "Mama, the letters just seem to crawl off the page."

    The symptoms of Irlen Syndrome can range from mild to extreme, too. A child with Irlen Syndrome often can read, however, they seldom enjoy the practice. Symptoms will manifest themselves as possible vision problems, but won't go away with glasses. Another complaint I often had and heard repeated by my son was that although I had new glasses, I still couldn't "focus" on the words. Symptoms may be seen as:

    • The child squirms as they read. Often changing the direction of their head or the book.
    • The child seems to over look words as they read, skipping them either partially or entirely.
    • As they read, the child, makes two words into one, i.e. 'they were' becomes 'there'
    • Child may squint or move closer to the book in an effort to see the word.
    • The child adds words to their reading, or changes the words to others that mean the same, but are completely different.
    • The child looks away from the words frequently as they read. This is an effort to refocus and stop the movement of the words.
    • Reading becomes more difficult as the child reads. At first seeming easy or natural, but as the page progresses the fluidity is lost.

    Symptoms may become more prevalent as the child moves into more difficult books. Books that are all text are the most difficult to decipher. The sufferer of Irlen Syndrome must fight the distortions harder if there are no pictures to break up the reading, or if the words are small and close together. Books with large print are beneficial.

    A child with Irlen Syndrome will often have an easier time reading in a poorly lit area. If your child wants to do his homework in the darkest corner of the house, or of his room, it may be the best place for him. Bright lights cause the distortions to be more severe. If you suspect your child has Irlen Syndrome, it is best to have them tested. Testing will verify the presence of Irlen Syndrome and will open the door to correcting what is seen.