IRLEN SYNDROME: AN UNDER-EXPLORED HIDDEN CONDITION?

Irlen_syndrome_textFinding someone well-versed in hidden conditions is tough enough. But when you do, you can imagine the type of conditions they are likely to list off; autism, bipolar, dyslexia, ADD, OCD etc. These conditions have enough notability to have integrated themselves into the popular domain, even if the in’s and out’s are still an enigma for the most part.

But how many people do you think are familiar with Irlen Syndrome?

If you were to think of how notable Irlen Syndrome is, the condition’s notability was a bit like the Guardians of the Galaxy…before the film came out of course.

The condition has many other names; Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS) or Meares-Irlen syndrome, even on rare occasion, asfedia and visual stress. But for the sake of avoiding a brain overload, we’re just stick to Irlen.

So just to give you fine readers a little crash course (sans an actual crash), Irlen Syndrome was named after Helen Irlen, an American psychologist who first identified the key traits of Irlen Syndrome in 1983, who first identified some of the key traits of the condition; namely visual distortions and a difficulty with processing visual information.

To see the world through Irlen-eyes, imagine looking at a sheet of paper. The streams of text are far from steady and in some cases, overlapping. As an example, take a look at the image provided at the top of the blog (I sincerely apologize for any brain-numbing you may be experiencing).

And it’s not just the reading. Visual distortions can vary depending on the environment. Such factors include lighting, brightness and high-contrasts. Like most hidden conditions, it varies from person to person, but these are the most common traits. These can result in headaches and nausea, and can flow over into mental issues, such as a lack of coordination, more easily prone to stress and anxiety, impacting rational thought.

One of the most common treatments for Irlen comes in the form of the Irlen Method – glasses with tinted lenses and coloured overlays, which narrow down the sensory distractions one might face, allow their focus and vision to be much clearer. The major benefit of these glasses is that they can allow people to see the world in a more balanced light.

Now, just to be clear, tinted glasses do NOT mean that you see the world in that colour. So, to anyone with Irlen buying a pair of purple-tinted glasses in the hope of seeing a world of purple, sorry to disappoint.

Now, one of the most popular, circulating myths surrounding Irlen Syndrome – and one which I’m ashamed to say I bought into at first – is its similarities with dyslexia. In some ways, both condition affect the way we see certain things, but dyslexia is more specifically oriented to language and an ability to read texts and word recognition. Irlen Syndrome is much more expansive, with symptoms including light sensitivity and visually processing anything in their line of sight. So although there are some very mild similarities – in some cases even going hand-in-hand with people having both dyslexia and Irlen – they are two separate conditions.

paddyconsidineOne of the biggest names to possess Irlen is acclaimed actor, writer and director Paddy Considine, who was diagnosed in 2013 at the age of 40. Since then, he has been wearing purple-tinted lenses and he confessed that the diagnosis had helped him become a better actor and feel more connected to his work.

Now, I could write a novel exploring the possible reasons as to why Irlen Syndrome isn’t as widely circulated as any of the other hidden conditions out there. But frankly, that would be downright speculation. The most plausible theory is that unlike many of the other conditions, Irlen isn’t formally recognized by any scientific or medical body, making a diagnosis a little harder to come by. So, you may recognize some of the traits in yourself, and there are indeed somewhat informal tests you can conduct on yourself (see here for an example), but you would need to find an Irlen specialist for more info, so to speak.

Other reasons for Irlen’s more evident anonymity could be because it is easy to pass the traits and visual difficulties off as either a passing abnormality or as another hidden condition altogether.

But it is certainly a prevalent condition. Studies have shown that an estimated 12-15% of UK residents have Irlen, and they require support and it has been shown that the tinted glasses can do wonders in improving the lives of people with the condition.

One of the groups Hidden Talent frequently mixes with, Confident Communites – ran by Tina Black and Rina Patel – recognize the value in researching and supporting this condition and have already done stellar work to support people who show Irlen traits. Click here for more information on the group and the work they are doing.

It is clear that more work needs to be done to explore this little-known, but increasingly prevalent condition and give it its Guardians of the Galaxy moment.

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