Sinéad and her children have Irlen syndrome, a condition that affects the way the brain processes visual information. It’s a common condition – many people don’t realise they have it. Sinéad has shared her story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.
My two children and I have a condition that makes words move on the page. When I sit in front of a computer the screen seems to shake in front of me. My son says the whole world is like a plate of wobbly jelly.
The most common name for this condition is Irlen syndrome but it also goes by Meares-Irlen syndrome, visual stress and scotopic sensitivity. It can exist as a condition by itself or alongside dyslexia.
Common difficulties include problems with reading and writing, over-sensitivity to light, problems differentiating between background and foreground in the environment, and a range of different physical effects caused by dealing with this, such as headaches, nausea, exhaustion.
Our experience of Irlen syndrome
My two children and myself all have Irlen symptoms. They affect us to different extents and in different ways.
My 10-year-old daughter finds the contrast between text and page the most difficult to manage.When she started using a coloured plastic sheet over the pages of her books, she went up three reading levels at school within a term. She also has coloured workbooks provided by the school, which she uses for her schoolwork.
My eight-year-old son reads very well but likes to use a coloured sheet when there are harsh lighting conditions. He also finds writing on coloured workbooks much more comfortable.
The children respond differently to environmental conditions as well. My son says he has no problems with the class smartboard (a large interactive ‘board’ projected onto the wall of the classroom). However, he howls with pain if the general lighting conditions are too bright.
My daughter doesn’t seem to be too bothered by light, but he needs the background of the board changed so it isn’t white. This is easily done, and most of the children prefer the jollier colour.
I have terrible handwriting; not many people know this. I experience environmental symptoms the most – sensitivity to light, and movement in my vision between the foreground and background.
This means that for me, my tinted Irlen glasses provide the best relief. However, the lenses are a dark turquoise colour and I don’t like to use them too much in the office as my colleagues cannot see my eyes.
On most occasions I actually use a green computer filter over my screen. This reduces headaches and makes it much easier for me to concentrate.
What can be done to help?
There are lots of adaptations that can be made, and many of them are free or readily available. For example:
- Changing the background colour of the interactive whiteboard in the classroom
- Using the minimum amount of artificial light in the classroom or workplace
- Using computers and social media to communicate instead of handwriting
- Coloured or tinted exercise books, overlays, reading rulers and tinted wipe-boards
None of these adaptations are that expensive – many could be implemented in every school in the UK tomorrow at no additional cost.
Changing the background of the interactive whiteboard is as simple as changing the colour of a Word document. If budget allowed, they could even have a stack of coloured paper for the children who chose to use it.
I would ask every teacher parent, school governor, MP and councillor reading this article to go into your local school tomorrow and ask them to do at least two of these three things.
It’s likely to improve academic performance – and it could just save the school life of many undiagnosed children sitting and suffering in silence.
Have you experienced any of these symptoms yourself? Are there any other ideas you would recommend? Talk about it on Scope’s online community.
Find out more about 100 days, 100 stories, and read the rest of the stories so far.