Information for Students
- History and Definition
- Irlen Institute indicators of MI
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:
- Irlen is widely criticised for marketing a product before adequate scientific evidence of how and why the treatment works.
- None of the Irlen eye specialists are trained optometrists.
- There is some dispute as to the precision of the lens colours.
- Irlen Institutes are sometimes criticised for being more interested in commercialisation than the advance of scientific knowledge.
(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).
The Irlen system identifies 6 categories of indicators for MI:
- Photophobia - the inability to tolerate bright light, problems with black on white.
- Visual resolution - Difficulty keeping an image constant. Letters on pages move, get lighter and darker and flash and flicker.
- Sustained focus - Trouble keeping letters in focus independent of refractive error
- Span of focus - the number of letters comprehended during a fixation pause is said to be reduced.
- Depth perception - said to be poor, not just when reading.
- Eye strain - reduces time spent reading, causes headache, blinking screwing up eyes etc, leading to poor concentration.
Adapted from Evans (2001)
According to the Irlen Institute the indicators of MI can manifest themselves as follows:
- Strain working under bright lighting
- Difficulty finding comfortable lighting
- Poor concentration
- Lack of attention
- Strain working at a computer
- Glare from bright objects
- Eye strain
- Headaches from:- reading, computers, lighting, TV, supermarkets
- Poor comprehension
- Skips words or lines
- Reads slowly or hesitantly
- Loses place
- Takes frequent breaks
- Avoids reading
- Eye strain
- Accident prone
- Bumps into things
- Difficulty catching small balls
- Difficulty with number columns
- Difficult reading music
- Difficulty writing on a line
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.
- If you suspect that you have MI it is generally advised to go to an optometrist (optician) for a normal eye assessment in order to eliminate any eye sight problems.
- If symptoms persist, it is then advised to visit a Doctor who can refer you on to a specialist in the local Orthoptic department to test for visual perception differences (These services are not yet available under the NHS).
- Some optometrists are trained to use a colorimeter designed by Professor Wilkins to accurately define a precision tint for individuals with visual perceptual difficulties. The finally defined colour can be replicated into a tinted lens. The precision of a colorimeter combined with advanced testing using double-masked trials are likely to define the most effective tint for specific individuals. To find out if there is an optometrist in the UK near you click the following link which provides contact details. http://www.ceriumvistech.co.uk/Specialists.htm
- Coloured overlays in the form of transparent sheets for reading.
- Coloured/tinted lenses in glasses and contacts for reading and writing.
- Computer software for changing background colours.
- Many websites have the facility to adjust background and text colour (e.g Websites with Textic Toolbar).
- Request for text to be printed on coloured paper.
- Adjust colour and brightness on computer screens to suit individual.
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?
Wilkins, A. (2003). Reading Through Colour. Wiley: Chichester.
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 .