What Is Irlen Syndrome?

As a parent there is almost a constant worry about your child’s physical and mental well-being, as we try to make sure that they can grow to reach their full potential. Dealing with health issues is never easy, especially if we are unaware of the symptoms that relate to specific conditions.

Irlen Syndrome is a condition that is can be hard for parents to identify and even non-specialist professionals (doctors and Optometrist are not trained to spot the symptoms) can sometimes misdiagnose the symptoms as dyslexia. So it is helpful for parents to understand the difference between standard reading and attention disorders and Irlen Syndrome. Read on below to find out what Irlen Syndrome is, the common symptoms and how it can be treated.

What is Irlen Syndrome?

Firstly, it is important to note that it is not a learning difficulty like dyslexia, although it can exist along with existing learning disorders. Irlen Syndrome occurs when the brain struggles to properly process visual information. It is important to know that this is not a problem with the eyes as your child can still have strong vision while viewing words on the page as blurry.

It comes down to how sensitive your child’s brain is to particular light wavelengths. Certain types of light can cause a sensitive brain to react in a number of different ways, which makes it hard for the brain to work as it should do. Irlen Syndrome is a condition that usually runs in the family with both boys and girls equally at risk. Illnesses and head injuries can also create the condition, depending on how bad they may be. There is no common type of Irlen Syndrome, which means one child may have more a more severe condition than another.

What are the common symptoms?

Irlen Syndrome affects everyone individually, and as there is no remedy available it is a life-long condition that requires ongoing care and attention. Below are the most common symptoms that people with Irlen Syndrome experience:

  • Printed text moves/looks distorted
  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Reading problems
  • Depth of field issues
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Lack of self-esteem and motivation
  • Poor comprehension
  • Problems with maths computation

What are the causes?

The symptoms above are caused by the immediate environment. This includes things such as bright or fluorescent colours and lighting, stripes, patterns, high contrast, glare, pages containing lots of images and/or text and print size, format and style.

Changes to the nervous system and brain chemistry changes as a result of stress placed onto the brain during intense visual or environmental activities. Serotonin, dopamine, cortisol and hormone levels are all affected as a result, leading to issues associated with learning, emotional and behavioural conditions.

What treatment is available?

While there is no cure for Irlen Syndrome, as a parent, there are a number of things you can do to make your child’s life easier.

  • If your child has been diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome, arrange a meeting with the school to discuss its impact on your child.
  • Bring along your child’s assessment report so it can be attached to their academic file, giving the school an ongoing reference point if needed.
  • Coloured Overlays or Spectral Filters have been proven to help people with Irlen Syndrome. They remove the discomfort that comes with reading almost instantly, allowing your child to learn without experiencing unnecessary anxiety and stress.
  • Remove fluorescent lighting at home and use natural lighting in its place.
  • Give your child a dark brimmed hat to wear indoors when reading as it will help protect against fluorescent and bright sunlight.
  • Allow your child to work in dim lighting. This may go against your natural instincts but this low-level lighting will help children with Irlen Syndrome.
  • Increase the font size of the text they are reading.
  • Try to avoid bright colours, strips and patterns on walls and floors.


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