Journey into Irlen®

This article on Irlen Syndrome has been a long time in the making—- to tell the truth, it has taken me a whole year and numerous starts on the article to get to this point. It has been hand written 10 times over, been eaten on, had coffee spilt on it, been typed and gone missing! I’ve spoken briefly about Irlen through a few of our newsletters at Breakaway Tuition and have helped numerous students (and myself) with correct identification, and seen the impact it has had on those students.

My name is Alysha Griffiths. I am the owner of Breakaway Tuition in Bowral, NSW, Australia and I have been working with families in relation to Irlen since mid 2016. I came down the Irlen path and decided to become a Screener as I had come across students when I was teaching in High Schools who had Irlen lenses. At the time I had noticed that the 2 students who had the lenses, suddenly had a massive turn around in commitment, focus and understanding of skills across all areas of English (I was an English/History teacher). Luckily, I had access to their Diagnostician Reports and was able to make a note of the recommendations that were given, and I also made a note of what it was called.

When I started my own tutoring business, I came across students that were struggling significantly, particularly in their reading and comprehension and so remembering the name “Irlen”, I sought out additional information as to how I could assist these students. I was sent some Overlays from our lovely diagnostician in Nowra and given information on how to use them effectively with students. And so my journey with Irlen began.

As I began to work with students and “play around with” the overlays, there were IMMEDIATE differences in their reading and comprehension skills once the correct overlay was chosen. I couldn’t believe how immediate this change was……and so I sought to become a Certified Screener.

At my Screener Training, it was picked up by my responses to the Irlen Screening to show me how one was conducted, that I had Irlen myself. The moment that I put the colour filters up to the own glasses and glanced into the backyard, I will never forget. EVERYTHING was clearer, and more in focus than it ever had been previously.

I was always an avid reader when I was at school, but I worked EXTREMELY hard in understanding content and comprehending information, even at university. I never had come across this before……but as I started ticking the Irlen information survey—— and let me tell you……I ticked a whole heap of “always”, it became clear that I could greatly benefit from this myself. I walked into walls, had bad hand, eye coordination (miss the tennis ball!!), read upside down or with one eye open when trying to get to the end of something, am terrible at focusing on one task at a time, and see lovely bright lines and rivers all down my computer and printed text (currently battling this as I am typing this!). With my magic rose coloured glasses (my first pair were rose and yellow), the whole world became clearer. I became more productive and no longer had issues driving at night or out in the sunlight. THEN I became pregnant……and my colour changed…. and now my eye sight has changed I will need to check my colour again in the new year.

The difference the lenses have made in my own life has been significant! I cannot explain it enough.

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More over, the results of my students that I work with has been fascinating. I am extremely proud of each and every one of them. I have seen students leap ahead massively in their learning, with schools noticing the difference as well. Their reading is more fluent, and they are enjoying reading a variety of texts a lot more (and the whole learning experience), comprehension levels are improving and most importantly, their confidence is soaring high, with each student believing in themselves.

Specific Results

So that you can get an idea of how much Irlen lenses have the ability to assist children, I want to share with you one of my students results. I have been working with this students now for 2 years, from Term 2 in 2016. When she came to me initially, she was in Year 4, and operating well below the grade level in all aspects of English and some areas of Mathematics as well. Our primary focus has been English- reading, comprehension and spelling. Each time we tried something that was slightly challenging, she would shut down completely, and enter straight into her shell, or cry. This was the case if she couldn’t read a word, couldn’t understand a question, and the biggest trigger, being asked to write something. By the end of last year, we began to see slow improvements in all areas of schooling…..but the biggest impact? Irlen lenses. After screening 10 students for Irlen (after I was certified of course!) I suggested to her mother that I would like to screen her (and her brother as well) for Irlen. We ended up when doing the lenses with Jenny, testing Dad too. All 3 came back positive for Irlen, and correct tints were selected for them.

We had already seen improvements in their reading and comprehension when just using the overlays, but the significant difference came with lenses. It has been easier to get my female student to wear the lenses because they are a light pink/purple colour, and are worn all the time. The tint is very slight and the difference they have made is incredible. With teenagers, it is a challenge to get them to wear them, as kids are cruel. We manage to get her brother to wear when at tutoring, and he wears them in examinations, but we are working on him wearing them all the time.

So over this year, significant improvements have been made to her understanding, this includes the confidence she has in her own abilities. Her reluctance, when things are slightly challenging has dropped significantly, she is now able to confidently sound out words which she would always skip before, and she is even beginning to write better (clearer, more evenly spaced) with more fluency- including improvements in ongoing editing of her work.

Her significant changes in her report include the following recognitions: speaking- more confidently, and can plan her work to then deliver to a large group; confident use of strategies such as notes and prompts to support herself; listens more carefully to instructions and has a greater understanding of what is being asked; has improved OVER 3 LEVELS in READING in the semester and 2 YEARS IMPROVEMENT in her COMPREHENSION skills; 2 YEARS improvement in her SPELLING and more improvements in writing and editing. The most exciting part of this is that these skills obviously overlap into all areas of learning, specifically Mathematics, where students are required to read, comprehend and select the correct strategies in order to provide the correct Mathematical responses.

I am extremely proud of this student. The success is not mine, but hers. Her dedication to her studies and her perseverance has assisted her greatly in her success…….but the only difference between this year and last year……….HER IRLEN LENSES!

This is just one success story from a large number of students I work with……each have seen significant improvements to their learning and lifestyle through their Irlen lenses.

Of course, with this level of success I am very keen to advance my skills from Screener to Diagnostician, particularly because in the Highlands we are at least 1 and a half hours away from any Diagnostician (sometimes even 2-3 hours away).

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Irlen- What is it?

So……. What is Irlen, I hear you say!!

Put simply, it is the way that individuals visually perceive the world around them. It is often interlinked with Dyslexia (symptoms can be the same/similar) and also has been inaccurately diagnosed as Dyslexia in the past as well.

There is a very detailed scientific laden explanation that you can seek out!

It means that our brains process what is being seen differently. It is NOT anything to do with our eyes and vision, but how the message of what we see is interpreted by our brains.

Unfortunately, there has been a prevalence of optometrists, who claim they can prescribe coloured lenses to help the same issues that Irlen lenses correct, but these are not the same as Irlen spectral filters, and often enhance the issues the individual is having.

Individuals who have Irlen, or who Irlen lenses can assist have a wide variety of symptoms that they may experience. This doesn’t start and stop at difficulties in reading. A person may see words moving, they may see lines (or rivers) down the page, white pages may be exceptionally bright, they may struggle to catch objects (I’ve had many a ball to the head), they may walk into things (like my best friends the wall and door knob!), it may take them longer to process information, car lights may be too bright to concentrate, sunlight may cause issues, pages may go blurry or swirl, or the individual may feel nauseous when they are tasked with reading text. Individuals may struggle with putting visual information into written text (even thoughts into texts) or may struggle to hear syllables. They may experience one, or many of these.

Notably, Irlen spectral filters have also assisted individuals that experience chronic migraines (by filtering out the parts of light that cause particular issues), and even those with head trauma.

So how many of us may have Irlen?

It is thought that more than 12% of the population- and as many as 20% of people may have Irlen Syndrome.

It effects between 50 and 60% of all people who have reading difficulties.

Symptoms to look out for (please excuse the large list!):

  • fatigue when reading (quickly)
  • slowing down after a few lines
  • losing place
  • skipping words
  • skipping lines
  • re-reading the same line
  • print distortions (doing things that it shouldn’t be like moving)
  • reversing letters and words
  • confusing little words (was/saw, on/no, for/from)
  • headaches/ nausea when reading, using computers or going outside
  • poor depth perception (including judgement, clumsiness and poor catching skills/hitting skills)
  • errors in: spelling, maths, numbers in columns
  • looking away from work constantly
  • head being on the side
  • puffy eyes, frequent rubbing of eyes, blinking
  • fidgeting and restlessness
  • poor organisational skills
  • being slow to copy information
  • struggling to copy information down
  • untidy writing
  • uneven letters, unequal spacing
  • working in the darkest part of room
  • avoidance of fluorescent lighting
  • shading eyes and work
  • moving the angle of the book

Myself? I tick off nearly every one of these! And it is something that i worked with my entire life!

What will this look like in my children?

We may not pick up on the specifics above…….students may try and cover this up….by avoiding school, making excuses to get out of class, forgetting materials or being the class clown. It is seen through research that often Girls will try to adapt their learning to cope with the issues they experience- they may be withdrawn, may negotiate help with friends, do helpful things for the teacher or try and achieve extra projects. Boys on the other hand may become aggressive, naughty or withdrawn because they don’t want to be seen as “stupid” by their class mates.

How come my child doesn’t tell me they are struggling? Because they may not know. How do you know to explain that the work in front of you is moving around and difficult to see, if this is how you have always seen it?

What do I do?

Organise a Screening. There is so much more information out there about Irlen Syndrome and the difficulties that are experienced by individuals. In addition to this, so many stories about the positive improvements made to individuals lives, once Irlen was identified.

Send me an email, give me a ring, organise a time to come in for a chat. I am here to help families and the community, and I will always make the time to go through how Irlen spectral filters (lenses) can assist your children, and even yourself!

Looking for more info?

  • The Australasian Association of Irlen Consultants- https://www.aaic.org.au
  • The Irlen Revolution by Helen Irlen
  • Reading by the colours by Helen Irlen

Who is Alysha?

Alysha Griffiths is the owner of Breakaway Tuition in Bowral. She previously worked in High Schools in English and History. Breakaway Tuition was opened in the hope to provide families and students with positive outcomes and experiences in education. Often, Alysha saw students lose hope in their abilities and saw children rapidly withdraw from class. Her mission is to reverse this and allow students to gain confidence in their abilities and begin to enjoy learning once again. As a member of the Australian Tutoring Association and the Australian Association of Irlen Consultants, Alysha is determined to offer the Southern Highlands comprehensive and professional tutoring and assistance in other areas of individuals lives that make a difference. Every little bit counts! All success is often due to a range of different “pieces of the puzzle”, which is what is being achieved at Breakaway Tuition.

2017 has seen Breakaway Tuition move from 3 tutors, to over 10 tutors who are all experienced, passionate and qualified teachers. Covering both Primary and High School, we offer assistance to families from all walks of life in a large variety of subject areas, with our main tutoring being that in English and Mathematics.