Irlen Syndrome

…thinking about a child who is struggling to learn to read (in spite of having good eye sight, being physically coordinated, able to carry his own weight in his upper arms, orally articulate and able to tell a story, share information, etc. with ease – a child who has shelves of books at home and a willingness to know more…)

…got me talking to a pediatric Occupational Therapist about Irlen Syndrome…

First, she asked me: “Is it his writing as well or just the reading he struggles with?”
“Is he good at maths?”
“How is his general coordination?”
“Are you aware of any developmental delays?” etc….

From there, we got on to Dyslexia (which she refers to as ‘Visual Perception Difficulty‘) and Visual Stress (Meares Irlen / Irlen Syndrome), which, she explained, are more to do with how your brain interprets information. Dyslexia is a fairly familiar difficulty (with deciphering, decoding, spelling, etc.), but Irlen Syndrome was only vaguely familiar to me….

As I understand it, this is when the eye works fine, but the brain struggles to interpret the information in certain light (which it doesn’t filter properly). Bright lights can be upsetting, as can fine print, etc.  People who have only a mild case learn what they are meant to see and are able to correct the information their brain receives when reading finer print or in brighter light.  However, children who have Irlen Syndrome to a stronger degree (I forget the exact terminology) struggle to learn what it is that they are meant to be seeing in the first place.

Because at primary school, tasks are increasingly reading-based, children with Irlen syndrome (and other reading difficulties, too) can find school increasingly difficult. It is worth reiterating, too, that while the tasks are increasingly reading-based, it is not always the child’s ability to read that is the focus of the task or assessment – i.e., it biases the assessment of a child with reading difficulties.

The OT also said that she asks children the question, “What does it look like when you read?” and gets surprising answers from children with this difficulty – dancing / jumping / can’t see it clearly etc.

It seems the NZ government funds for testing children under 16 for this…

Some information is available at:



About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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