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What is Irlen Syndrome?

Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing problem that affects 46% of people with dyslexia, learning disabilities or other reading or comprehension problems. Irlen Syndrome is not a learning disability in and of itself, although people with Irlen may have other learning disabilities that should be addressed. Technically speaking, Irlen Syndrome is not dyslexia, and it is not a vision problem that can be diagnosed or corrected by an optometrist. The primary symptom for Irlen sufferers is that they have trouble perceiving words on a printed page. For some the problem occurs almost immediately after looking at a page of printed text, and for others the problem occurs after reading for a period of time.

There are five main components of Irlen Syndrome.  Sufferers may have a combination of any of these symptoms:

1. Light Sensitivity
Irlen sufferers are often bothered by the lighting conditions in their reading space. Some will complain that the light is too bright while others need more light. It is not uncommon for a student with Irlen to do his or her schoolwork in a dimly lit room. Often parents insist that the child use more light, but that could in fact be making the perceptual problems associated with Irlen Syndrome even worse.

2. Inadequate Background Accommodation
For most people diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome, the most difficult page to read is one with black print on white paper. This high contrast is supposed to be easy to read, but for those with Irlen, the contrast is so great that one color dominates the other. This can result in the text becoming blurry or washed out. Often a student will see letters that appear to be reversed especially letters like b, d, p, and q. Sometimes, they do not perceive the punctuation on the page because for them it has disappeared or faded into the background.

3. Poor print resolution
A reader with Irlen Syndrome will often say that the letters on the page move, dance, vibrate, pulsate, jiggle, shift, shimmer, or even disappear completely. Print size often plays a role in these problems. This is why the problems often appear around the 3rd grade when reading tasks become longer and the font size in school books becomes smaller.

4. Restricted span of recognition
Some people with Irlen Syndrome have a very narrow range of focus. They can only see 3 or 4 letters at a time. This is often the reason why reading is very choppy. The student has to refocus on every three letters. Words with several syllables become almost impossible to comprehend. Try reading the word dif   fi     cult the way a student with Irlen would be forced to read it. Imagine of every word on the page was separated this way.

5. Lack of sustained attention
There is little wonder that a student with Irlen Syndrome seems to have a short attention span. Reading a simple paragraph is an exhausting task. The reader falls further and further behind because he cannot keep up with the reading assignments that are expected of him.

The first step in correcting Irlen Syndrome is to have a professional screening. The screener will fit you with specifically colored overlay sheets that will help and sometimes completely correct the perceptual problems of Irlen Syndrome. Eventually, it is recommended that special filters (similar to glasses) be used as a more permanent solution.

Irlen Syndrome does not only affect reading. Imagine the same perception problems on a page of music or a column of numbers in math. Those with Irlen will often miss math problems simple because they saw a “+” as a “-“. They did not perceive the vertical line of the plus sign on the page. Other areas affected are sports, driving, depth perception, hesitating getting on an escalator or taking the first step down a flight of stairs.

If you think you or someone you know may have Irlen Syndrome, take the“Self Test” at the Piedmont Irlen Screening website, and contact us to schedule a screening today.

Who Can be Helped
by the Irlen Method?

Piedmont Irlen Screening is able to help a wide verity of people with dyslexia, reading and other learning difficulties, low reading motivation, and attention deficit disorder (ADD/HD).

People with Reading Problems, Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties:

  • Reading is difficult and cannot use their reading skills or learn basic reading skills
  • Problems with flow, fluency, and comprehension
  • 46% of this population can be helped by the Irlen Method
  • Other problems may exist and instruction or remediation may be necessary

People with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/HD):
There is confusion and controversy over using medication to treat ADD/HD. Conflicting information has led to under-recognition as well as over-diagnosis and over-treatment. According to the experts, almost half of all children in the country with ADD/HD are not receiving appropriate care. As many as a third of those identified as having attention deficit disorder may be mislabeled and can be helped by the Irlen Method. The characteristics of those who can be helped are:

  • Problems concentrating when reading or writing
  • Easily distracted when reading or writing
  • Distracted when under fluorescent lights
  • Daydreams in class
  • Problems staying on task with academic work
  • Problems starting academic tasks

Gifted and Average Students with Good Reading Skills:

  • Spend longer to complete homework
  • Physical complaints of headaches, strain, or tiredness when reading or at school
  • Avoids reading or reading for pleasure
  • Does poorly on timed tests or standardized tests
  • Unable to keep up with reading assignments
  • Reads beginning and summaries rather than the entire chapter
  • Listens in class rather than doing assigned reading
  • Finds it easier to learn from discussion than reading
  • Works hard to get grades but feels that s/he is brighter than grades indicate
  • Considered lazy or unmotivated. Told they could do better if tried harder
  • 12-14% can be helped by the Irlen Method

Others who may be helped:

  • People who experience headaches or migraines when reading
  • People who experience nausea or dizziness when reading
  • People who experience fatigue when reading
  • People with discomfort in sunlight
  • People with discomfort in bright lights or fluorescent lighting
  • People who prefer dim lighting while reading
  • People bothered by headlights at night
  • People bothered by glare
  • People with stress or strain with sustained reading
  • People with stress or strain from visually-intensive activities
  • People with difficulty looking at stripes or patterns
  • People bothered by certain colors

Go to our other website for Piedmont Irlen Screening for more information: Click Here

For more information visit the international Irlen website at

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