Irlen Syndrome, also known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS), is a genetic condition that affects visual perception. Influenced by light sensitivity, Irlen Syndrome impacts the way a person sees and processes the written word and their environment. It affects about 10 to 20 per cent of the population, more than 50 per cent of those with reading difficulties and more than 33 per cent of people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
One of the challenges with Irlen Syndrome is that it can only be identified by completing a visual processing assessment called the Irlen Reading Perceptual Scale (IRPS).
“Children five years and under can be too young to complete the IRPS assessment as they have limited vocabulary and experience around explaining what perceptual difficulties they experience,” says Crowe.
The syndrome presents in many ways and to various degrees. For example, some people will only experience issues with light sensitivity when looking at black text against a white background, some will find fluorescent lighting more problematic than others, and some will be extremely sensitive to sunlight but not necessarily fluorescent lighting.
Headaches, migraines, eye strain, fatigue and chronic fatigue are all possible symptoms while there can also be emotional challenges such as anxiety and low self-esteem.
“Sufferers can be easily frustrated,” says Crowe. “In the educational setting they can have behaviour issues, difficulties with concentration… they may distract others, become the class clown and may avoid work.” Some people will have difficulties with depth perception and judging distance, and may be clumsy. They may veer into people when walking beside them, trip on stairs, have difficulty catching balls, have trouble judging the distance of traffic when driving and may hit the kerb or leave a lot of room between the car and the kerb when parking.
The condition is managed with Irlen lenses, worn as glasses. The lenses eliminate, or significantly reduce, a person’s visual perception difficulties, and allow the brain and the eyes to relax. Some people require the lenses for reading only while others may need them for reading and computer work. For those who have difficulty with glare in the environment or experience depth perception difficulties, the lenses will need to be worn as often as possible, day and night. sidc.net.au