Irlen Syndrome: What Is It & How to Treat It

My daughter happily wearing her brand new Irlen custom-tinted lens. That smile says it all!
My daughter happily wearing her brand new Irlen custom-tinted lens. That smile says it all!

My 15 year old daughter was born with Irlen Syndrome.

Irlen Syndrome is a short-circuit between the brain and the optic nerve. Something goes amiss and the brain is unable to send the optic nerve every signal that corresponds to every color of the color spectrum.

A person with Irlen Syndrome does not see the world as everyone else does. They miss certain colors. It is almost like color blindness, but that is NOT what is going on since more than the colors of blue or green are affected. Also, Irlen Syndrome results in kids being diagnosed with “learning disabilities” such as ADD, ADHD, other issues and put on medication such as Ritalin, when in fact, it is Irlen Syndrome that is at the root of their issue(s).

Irlen Syndrome does not only affect children. Many adults also have it & are unaware because doctors & even specialists are unaware this syndrome even exists. Irlen Syndrome is hereditary. Chances are good that if an adult has it that one or more of their children also will place somewhere on the Irlen spectrum. A grandparent probably has Irlen Syndrome as well.

If you have a family history of headaches, migraines, mood swings, anxiety, or depression and any combination thereof, there is a good chance your family has been suffering from undiagnosed Irlen Syndrome that has been misdiagnosed as other issues that have then been treated incorrectly and in isolation. This may also be the reason why treatments have been failing or not as successful for you as they are for others.

My daughter was undiagnosed until the age of 15 & suffered from reading & sight difficulties her entire life that resulted in chronic daily headaches, insomnia, mood swings, lack of appetite, digestive disorders, and anxiety that all began to coincide with her teen years. She never complained to us until she was in the 8th grade. Until then, she thought that the way she was seeing the world was normal.

Starting in the 8th grade she began to have increased difficulty in reading. Up until then she had somehow learned to compensate. Her particular reading issue is that she misses a few letters within longer words. She compensates by mentally filling in the blank and using context to figure out what the word should be. As a result, her reading rate for reading aloud is very slow and is suitable for a much younger student. She hates reading aloud as a result.

Other people with Irlen Syndrome see text differently than others. The text can appear to float above the paper. The paper can appear to be so much brighter than the text that it blots out some of the letters. Letters within words can appear to swim and change position with other letters often causing the person to be diagnosed with dyslexia, when that is NOT what they have. Words can swim and switch positions within sentences. In extreme cases entire sentences can turn into “rivers” and float all around the page making reading nearly impossible.

My daughter used to be cheery, a social butterfly, helpful around the house, and enjoyed doing things with my husband and I. All that began to slowly change in the 8th grade. It happened so gradually that we didn’t notice until we woke up one day and realized we had an extremely surly teen on our hands. I discussed this issue with two pediatricians who both came to the same conclusion: it’s the kid’s hormones kicking in and she will eventually adjust. We went with that diagnosis for another year. Then everything changed once she entered high school.

Her high school issued a free laptop to every student. That was the catalyst for us. My daughter was unable to read off of it properly. She began to suffer from massive headaches, insomnia, and she was in a bad mood nearly 24/7 and also developed digestive issues and serious anxiety. Her pediatrician ruled most of it as being related to hormonal levels and adjusting to high school. He suggested a neurological consult for the headaches and a psychologist for the anxiety. He also wanted to put her on medication, but I did not allow that. My intuition was already telling me there was more going on there than what met the eye and that the pediatrician would be of no help.

The neurologist, after an MRI, concluded Ariel’s brain was “unremarkable,” meaning that everything was normal and functioning as it should. He stressed that anxiety alone could be the culprit behind all the other issues and probably was, including the headaches so he recommended not just a psychologist but a psychiatrist as well. Again, I ignored that particular recommendation because something told me that was not the problem.

The focus then became her eyes. Already wearing prescription lens for severe near-sightedness, I took Ariel for an opthamological consult with my own doctor. She could not find anything wrong with Ariel’s eyes or her optic nerves. Everything appeared completely normal to her during her examination.

Finally, I insisted the school test her for dyslexia since she said on the computer words were swimming and changing positions on her and she wasn’t even able to read her assignments. She tested completely normal so we were stumped. It wasn’t until later in the school year that one of her teachers suggested it might be something called Irlen Syndrome because she was recognizing in my daughter many of the same symptoms her own son exhibited years ago. She told me I would have to on my own find a Diagnostician since most insurances did not cover Irlen Syndrome.

When I found a local Diagnostician and had my daughter screened for Irlen Syndrome it was as if a fog had been lifted. For the first time I could see along with the tests she was having my daughter do that she really did have a very serious sight distortion issue when it came to text. The Diagnostician was also shocked when I informed her all of my daughter’s classes were Pre-AP and that she was an A/B student. She said that her intelligence must be actually much higher if she was able to maintain such good grades while compensating so much on her reading and it did not cause her grades to fall.

Upon receiving her Irlen tinted lens the headaches stopped in 48 hours & have not returned. Her mood swings also ceased in 48 hours. Her appetite returned in less than five hours and for the first time in 3 years she asked for seconds at dinner on the day she received her lens. Her anxiety levels, according to her, are now at “near zero”, and so far she has not suffered any further stomach upset. She still has insomnia, but has only had her tinted Irlen lens for a week. The diagnostician told us different symptoms would clear up at various rates & to be patient. So we’re hoping the insomnia clears up for her, but she has noticed she is sleeping harder than usual, so I see that as an improvement already.

Please do yourselves a favor and visit the official site for Irlen Syndrome.   There is a long list of related symptoms posted there. Read through that list. My daughter’s diagnostician told me that if anyone has at least 3 symptoms on the list that occur regularly, chances are good they will place somewhere on the spectrum.

Being diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome is a 2-part process. The first consists of being screened by an Irlen Screener or an Irlen Diagnostician. The difference between the two is the Screener can only test you to see if you place on the spectrum. They will then inform you of exactly where you are on the spectrum and if your condition requires the corrective custom-tinted Irlen lens. A Diagnositician, on the other hand, can also screen you, but they are the one licensed to then fit you with the corrective custom-tinted Irlen Lens.

The screening process takes approximately 90 – 120 minutes, and when I took my daughter to be screened a good part of the time was spent getting my questions finally answered by someone who actually KNEW something and was incredibly helpful.

The screening consists of being given a variety of pictures, figures, and text to look at and to read. The manner in which you read it aloud to the Screener or Diagnostician tells them a great deal of how you are actually seeing the text and figures. The Screener or Diagnostician will then ask you a series of questions to help you describe exactly how you are seeing the text on the page. Once that is completed you are told where you place on the spectrum and you are then given a plastic cover overlay. You are offered every shade from pale yellow to a dark gray, and whichever shade helps you to read better, that is the shade you take home with you. You can then place it over books, assignments from school, and your computer screen.

I can tell you from my own personal experience that a turquoise overlay has totally eliminated the eye strain I had suffered from for 40 years. I place very low on the spectrum so I do not require the corrective custom-tinted lens, but my 15 year old daughter placed at the extreme end of high on the spectrum, so she is much worse off than I am, but now has her lens and is incredibly happy and also shocked at how different the entire world looks to her now.

The lens fitting process takes approximately 3 hours. It consists of holding up to your eyes a set of tinted lens. This can be done whether you wear glasses or not. My daughter held the tinted lens against her glasses in order to read with them.

The testing begins with the darkest shade of gray and moves on into the purples, blues, greens, reds, pinks, and finally to yellow. Each color has within it four different shades of lens. Some colors can be ruled out immediately if they make your eyes hurt or you feel like you’re starting to get a headache so you may not have to try every single color in the rainbow.

As my daughter was tested for her tinted lens it readily became clear that the purple color was really helping her. The Diagnostician then had my child hold up to her eyes both the lavender shade of purple (that was the shade she read with the best) and then she looked at all four shades of blue and all four shades of red, pink, and magenta, which are all colors used to mix with blue to create purple.

After a great deal of experimentation with the sets of lens and various combinations of them the Diagnostician determined my daughter needed a combination of lavender, sky blue and pale magenta. That is her own unique custom combination of Irlen tints and they give her glasses a purple appearance to us when we look at her, but as she looks out through her glasses she sees as though she is not wearing any tint. This is because the tint of her lens is compensating for that part of the color spectrum her brain is unable to process so with her tinted Irlen lens my child is now seeing normally FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HER ENTIRE LIFE.

We have light tan walls in our home and we have lived here for ten years. When my daughter first put on her new glasses with the Irlen tinted lens she screamed. She scard me half to death! Then she said, “Mom, the WALLS!” I asked her, “what about the walls?” She said, “They’re TAN!!” I said, “well, yes, they’re a light tan.” Then she told me she had been seeing LIME-GREEN all this time! For ten years my child thought the walls of our home were a pale shade of lime-green and she thought it was normal so she never mentioned it!

As we all know, tan and lime-green do have a yellow component to both colors, but for tan it’s very slight. The yellow component is much more pronounced in lime-green, plus it also contains blue, which is totally absent from tan, but my daughter’s optic nerves and brain were not allowing her to see the neutral aspect of light tan and had somehow made her see lime-green. This told me my daughter has problem seeing shades of the color yellow and also probably blue since yellow and blue create green, and if you use more yellow than blue you can create a lime-green. I was sold on Irlen lens in that instant.

I ask everyone who reads this particular blog post to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE share it to your Facebook, Twitter, and all other social media outlets you are currently using. Also, inform your doctors. So very few have even heard of Irlen Syndrome. We need to get the word out about Irlen Syndrome.

The Diagnostician told me that 20 – 30 percent of the world’s population suffers from Irlen Syndrome and most of them are completely unaware of it! Please spread the word so those who are in need of help can finally learn that their symptoms are all connected, all have a single cause, and that there IS help out there for them.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

What follows is some information about the discoverer of Irlen Syndrome, Helen Irlen, that I copied from Below that are the links to her two books and a review from one parent. I urge you, if you or anyone you know has had difficulty with reading, sunlight or artificial light, PLEASE visit the official Irlen website and see how many of the symptoms apply to you or to them.

Remember, if you have consistently suffered from 3 or more symptoms, chances are that you place somewhere on the Irlen spectrum. If that is the case, there is also information at the website about Screeners and Diagnosticians worldwide and I sincerely hope if you or someone you know is suffering from Irlen Syndrome that you can find a Diagnostician in your area who can help.

~ Nefer Khepri, PhD., R. M-T.

Author & Creator of The Egyptian Lenormand, forthcoming from Schiffer Books.

Quoted from

Helen L. Irlen is an internationally recognized educator, researcher, therapist, scholar, and expert in the area of visual-perceptual problems. She is a graduate of Cornell University. Ms. Irlen has been in the field of education for the past 30 years. Her background includes 15 years as a School Psychologist, 30 years as a Child and Family Therapist, Educational Therapist, founder and Director of the Adult Learning Disabilities Program and Assistant Professor of Adult Learning Disabilities at California State University/Long Beach, instructor in psychology at Cornell University, and research assistant at Cornell. She has been recognized for her dedication to working with children and adults and is listed in Who’s Who in California, Who’s Who in Asia and the Pacific Nations, International Woman of the Year (1999-2000), International Who’s Who of Professionals, Kingston’s National Registry of Who’s Who, and the Dictionary of International Biography.

Over 20 years ago, research directed by Helen Irlen under a federal research grant studied methods of helping children and adults with reading and learning disabilities. One important discovery was that a subgroup of individuals showed a marked improvement in their reading ability when reading material was covered by colored acetate sheets. For the next five years, Ms. Irlen worked on refining her discovery, developing diagnostic testing instruments, and patenting a set of colored filters.

Because of this breakthrough, the Irlen Method has been the subject of two segments of 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, The Home Show, 60 Minutes Australia, a BBC Special, ABC Worldwide News with Peter Jennings, NBC News, and numerous TV shows around the world. She is the author of Reading By The Colors. Her work has been reported in textbooks on learning disabilities in Australia and England, and the Irlen Method has received international exposure through National Geographic, newspaper articles, magazine articles, and television documentaries.

There are over 80 affiliated Irlen Clinics worldwide and over 7,000 educators have been trained in the Irlen Method. Many school districts have included screening as part of the regular test battery administered. ~

To find out more about Helen Irlen visit

She has two books easily available on Amazon

The Irlen Revolution, by Helen Irlen: available for paper copy & Kindle.

 Reading By the Colors, by Helen Irlen, paper copy only

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful

Irlen Lenses Helped Our Family

By Joyce Owings on September 4, 2000

Format: Mass Market Paperback

Reading By the Colors and the Irlen Method of using colored lenses to help visual distortions has changed our lives. After visiting a pediatrition, allergy specialist, optometrist,opthomologist, and getting a CAT scan, my niece finally received the Irlen lenses and can now see without having words slide off the page. She also can concentrate on her reading and was able to discontinue her Ritalin for a supposed condition of ADD. Also, I received the Irlen lenses and can now see the words on the page that previously were overtaken by the white background. I can also now see depth perception in scenery and can enjoy the colors of flowers, trees, and clouds…I can really see the silver linings! Night driving is also much easier! This book really helped me understand why I sometimes would see things differently, or why I would not read as fluently as I would like to. It helped me understand why I had to study so much longer than others. Even though I have two college degrees, it was a struggle! This book is a must for teachers! I am an elementary teacher and plan to tell everyone about it!


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