Talking to a pediatric Occupational Therapist about Irlen Syndrome, she told me that people don’t often think to ask children who are struggling to read ‘What does it look like when you read?’
Children who have Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome may reply that ‘the words are dancing’ or ‘running off the page’ or a host of other things. When she said this, I was surprised – I thought that was normal myself!
I haven’t gone to get tested (if I have Scotopic Sensitivity, it obviously didn’t stop me from learning to read – or from learning full stop). However, reading about this syndrome further, I keep coming across descriptions of the printed page that I thought were normal and which apparently are not. For example: I thought it was normal for the words to appear as if they were in 3D sometimes (a survey of friends suggests not); sometimes they move sideways and back again (for me, but apparently not for everyone!); I thought it was normal to remember the shape of the paragraphs on the page so I could find where I was up to (and to remember which words were in the top right corner of the right-hand page so I can find the bits I need to re-read later – and to notice where the biggest words are in a paragraph and use them to find my place); I thought it was normal to watch the patterns made by the white space because you can usually follow them from the top left to the bottom right in a fat line … and other things, too. Apparently not! Oh.
So I am reading about Irlen Syndrome (and if you thought all this is normal, you might like to learn about it too!).
Helen Irlen writes: “A number of individuals have reading or learning difficulties because they do not see the printed page the same way proficient readers do. They have difficulty processing full-spectrum light efficiently. This perceptual problem is now called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. Some people use the word scotopic to mean night vision. I don’t mean it that way. Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome is a coined term. It’s not the same as scotopic vision. Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome has its own meaning and clustr of symptoms. Although little is known about the physiological basis of SSS, we do know that we are dealing with the spectral modification of light.” (p.29)
“…it’s important to realize that Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome is a perceptual dysfunction rather [-p.30] than a vision problem, which involves difficulties with the functioning of the eye. SSS, like any reading problem, can occur with someone who is wearing glasses or even with someone who has perfect vision and doesn’t need glasses. It’s not going to be picked up by vision specialists, either optometrists or ophthalmologists, because it is not a weakness in the visual system.
When you’re given a visual test, you’re often asked to read a line of letters. If you have SSS, you might be able to read that line, even though the background is flashing or the letters are fading or changing shape. But if you try to read page after page of little print, SSS symptoms will start to interfere with reading.” (pp.29-30)
“How many teachers have ever asked a child who stumbled over a word, ‘What happened that made you stumble?’ Only the person who is reading has that information.
People can stumble over a word for a variety of reasons, such as a weak sigh vocabulary or poor decoding skills. But it’s not always because they can’t read the word. Sometimes they have trouble because the words on the page are sliding into each other or because they’re waiting for words that have undergone the white-out effect to revert to normal. Those reasons are related to Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. But unless the right questions are asked of readers experiencing problems, all problems will get classified the same -as reading failure.” (p.66)
Questions to consider
The following questions are posed on p.xiii by way of a path into considering Irlen Syndrome as a cause:
Do you skip words or lines when reading?
Do you reread lines?
Do you lose your place?
Are you easily distracted when reading?
Do you need to take breaks often?
Do you find it harder to read the longer you read?
Do you get headaches when you read?
Do your eyes get red and watery?
Does reading make you tired?
Do you blink or squint?
Do you prefer to read in dim light?
Do you read close to the page?
Do you use your finger or other markers?
Do you get restless, active, or fidgety when reading?
Personally, I answered yes to all of the above and I find it hard to believe anyone wouldn’t!
Ref: Helen Irlen (2005) Reading By Colors: Overcoming dyslexia and other reading difficulties through the Irlen method. Penguin: New York