What is Irlen Syndrome:
Irlen syndrome is one of the hardest topics to explain. It is a condition that is linked with dyslexia and can affect 8 out 10 dyslexics and they may not even know it. I find this condition the hardest to cope with as it make you feel physical sick. It can also explain a lot of the behaviours a dyslexic will display that people will shrug off and say they just being a teenager or trying to avoid something.
This condition affects the way we process visual information. The easiest way for me to explain is that anything to do with light, brightness and glare will kick of our Irlen symptoms. Therefore, if we have a white background, which is all these things, we have a hard time to cope. This is not just reading white paper; this can be anything that is white or that sun glares off. For example, any classrooms, meeting rooms, my workplace, hospitals, dentists, doctors, supermarkets, airports – anything that is white I will struggle with. When I walk into one of these places my brain can not cope and your first thought is: Holy crumble its bright in here!
Background on my Irlens and what I see:
I had to have a further dyslexia test for uni and the lady that tested me realised I had the irlens condition but she assumed I was already aware as I had a tint on my glasses already. However, after a comment was made to my mum, she realised we were unaware of this condition completely. As she was qualified in this field, she tested me the next day. I am so happy that this comment was made as I probably would have not got through uni without having this condition diagnosed.
My mum sat in with me on this test (the first one I reluctantly let her sit in on). After the test one of the first things she said was “how on earth have you managed to get your grades in school?”
One thing no one ever asks outright is: What do you see when you look at this? This is the main question they ask through this test while holding up cards. My mum was so surprised when I said:
- Lights that look like stars behind the words
- The words go in spiral effect on the page
- The words that I can see through on the back of the card are pulling forward over the words on the page I am meant to be reading from
- I’m seeing squares when there are no shapes on that page
- When I focus on one line the rest of the words move off the page entirely and its as if my eyes have to catch them
- The background is flashing from white to black to white again – constantly. But if you shake the page that will stop.
Although my mum found the answers hard to hear she mentioned she found it worse looking at me trying to concentrate and seeing the discomfort I was in trying to focus and answer the questions. This test was only 20 mins but for me it felt like an hour and I was tired and irritated by the end of it. This is the part where Irlen’s really kicks in and affects you due to the above.
How does Irlen’s affect you?
When you are having a ‘Irlen’s day’ and you are seeing all the above when you read it can almost make you feel like you have sea sickness or dizziness. A common problem I had from a young age was I would find everything around me would go superfast such as people walking, trees moving, cars and people talking. I then would feel like I was in slow mo. This then made me feel dizzy and I would panic and I would crawl up on the floor or put my head on the desk as darkness felt better. I used to get this more when I was outside in a crowded place when it was sunny.
Lack of concentration, distracted, fidget bum:
As we see the above, we often find it hard to concentrate and get distracted easily. I used to find it extremely hard to concentrate if I was placed near a window in school as I would daydream out of it. Not because I was lazy but because it was lot more relaxing than trying to read my textbook. I also used to find it incredibly hard to stay still as I would be trying to follow the words and sway, or I would just be very uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to get out of the classroom.
All my friends and teachers would describe me as a happy, bubbly but quiet girl. I think I am quiet because I was actually quite an angry child due to the stress of all of these symptoms. I used to do well to hide it in school but when I got home I used to unleash my temper on my family, rip my room apart or just cry because I felt so poorly and didn’t understand why. This is a common issue as we feel safe in doing this. However, can be very confusing for a parent if you do not know why they act that way and think its them just being a teenager. One way to describe Irlen’s is that it is like the snickers advert. Elton John is being diva and all irritated because of his Irlen’s but when he gets his nutty chocolate bar he feels better and calm. This is what darkness and rain is for me – it is a snickers bar and I feel much happier when I have it rather than white rooms and sunlight.
As we link school and places above to illness and discomfort, we can make ourselves very anxious to go there. My friends used to say there was school kate where I was quiet and serious and then outside kate where I was all fun and jokes. This wasn’t because I was a geek and enjoyed school like they thought – it was actually because I was really struggling.
We need to raise awareness!
Since writing this blog and just mentioning Irlen’s I have had 6 people state they have never heard of this and think either they or their child may have this. Therefore, it is so important we share this knowledge as there is not enough information out there about it. A doctor will not pick up on this only someone who specialises in dyslexia will.
I will be discussing ways to combat this in further articles. However, sources that have helped me to understand this area better is Irlen.com and a documentary that Kara Tointon did on her dyslexia and irlens which you can find on youtube. This shows how it affected her and you see how much better she is with the aids they provide. This also helped my mum to understand bit more of what I was going through in school which really helped.
So spread the word now!
I apologise dyslexics for the length of my articles. I am currently looking into possibilities of podcasts as well so it is easier for you to get this information too.