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Information & Advice

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...on Assistive Technology

Meares Irlen Syndrome

Information for Students

 

 

History and Definition

 

Meares Irlen Syndrome (sometimes called scotopic sensitivity syndrome) is not generally classified as a SpLD but a visual perceptual disorder affecting reading and writing based activities. The Irlen Institute states that MI syndrome affects approximately 12% of the population and 65% of those who are dyslexic.  It can also exist as a component of autism.

Meares Irlen Syndrome (MI) was first identified in the eighties by two individuals working separately, a teacher named Olive Meares in New Zealand and a psychologist named Helen Irlen in America. 

Olive Meares provided a detailed written account of the spatial distortions affecting some individuals’ ability to read text. She also reported that the distortion could be reduced or eliminated by the use of coloured paper or by using coloured overlays.

Helen Irlen wrote a similar report describing how 31 out of 37 students with visual perceptual problems were helped by the use of coloured overlays.  Irlen devised and marketed a system of using coloured overlays and lenses whilst reading known as the Irlen Method.

 

The theory behind Meares Irlen Syndrome is that certain wavelengths of light interfere with the visual pathways between the eyes and the brain, but there is debate as to the exact mechanisms responsible.  The use of coloured overlays seems to help readers by absorbing the problematic wavelengths whilst reflecting the others.  Different people require different colours which often need to be precisely defined. 

Whilst the Irlen system of coloured overlays and lenses has been beneficial to many people identified as having MI there is some controversy as to the scientific method behind the theory and the scale used to identify MI syndrome:

 

 

(Evans, 2001 & Wilkins, 2003).

 

 

Despite the criticisms of Meares Irlen Syndrome and the Irlen method, scientific evidence has shown that the use of coloured overlays can improve the reading speed and comfort of a significant number of individuals displaying the indicators of MI Syndrome (Wilkins, 2003).

 

 

Indicators

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The Irlen system identifies 6 categories of indicators for MI:

 

 

Adapted from Evans (2001)

According to the Irlen Institute the indicators of MI can manifest themselves as follows:

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GENERAL PROBLEMS

READING

 JUDGING DISTANCES

OTHER PROBLEMS

 

(Irlen.co.uk)

 

 

Assessment

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In the past assessment for MI was generally performed by the Irlen Institute which was quite expensive.  Now practitioners who have been trained by the Institute of Optometrists can carry out an assessment and prescribe an overlay for use when reading.  This has increased the number of professionals with assessment skills and made the assessment procedure and prescription of suitable overlays more affordable.

(Educational-Psychologist.co.uk)

 

Solutions

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References

Educational Psychologist. (no date ) Origins of Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome.  http://www.educationalpsychologist.co.uk/history%20of%20scotopic%20sensitivity%20meares-irlen%20syndrome.htm

Evans, B.J.W. (2001). Dyslexia & Vision. Whurr: London.

 

Irlen Centres UK. (no date) What is Irlen Syndrome?

www.irlen.co.uk

 

Wilkins, A. (2003). Reading Through Colour. Wiley: Chichester.

 

 

Bibliography

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British Association of Behavioural Optometrists (BABO) www.babo.co.uk

British Dyslexia Association http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/extra360.html

Cerium Visual Technologies http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/extra360.html

 

Evans, B.J.W. (2001). Dyslexia & Vision. Whurr: London.

Irlen, H. (1991) Reading by the Colors. New York: Avery Publishing Group Inc.

 

Meares, O. (1980). Figure/background, brightness/contrast and reading disabilities. Visible Language, 14, 13-29.

 

Menacker, S.J., Breton, M.E., Breton, M.L., Radcliffe, J. and Gole, G.A. (1993) Do tinted lenses improve the reading performance of dyslexic children? Archives of Ophthalmology

 

The Institute of Optometrywww.ioo.org.uk

 

Wilkins, A.J. (1996) A system for precision ophthalmic tinting and its role in the treatment of visual stress. In Dickinson et al .

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