This week I featured (together with my husband and daughter) in an article in the Yorkshire Post about Irlen Syndrome (also known as Mears-Irlen Syndrome or MIS). And even though, I’d agreed (several months ago) to do a case study for the Irlen Institute in the UK (we’re unusual because the whole family wear the coloured lenses normally associated with dyslexia) and had subsequently agreed to do an interview for the Yorkshire Post, I still found it strange seeing our story in print, particularly because I’d never actually admitted before (even to myself) that I had Irlen Syndrome…..
Compared to my husband and daughter, who quite simply couldn’t read before they got their glasses, I feel like a fake and like someone who’s ‘jumping on the band wagon’. I’m not dyslexic and haven’t had nearly as many problems as them, but then again, I do feel far more comfortable wearing my coloured lenses, which is why I’ve had the tint added to my prescription lenses and why I wear them all the time. I can now see in 3D and don’t bump into things as much, I can drive for unlimited periods of time without feeling tense, stressed and tired (it took me nearly 4 years to pass my test and then on one of my first solo outings I wrote off my mum’s car!) and I now do most things (comfortably) on screen (whether it’s my laptop, iPhone or iPad). I’m currently writing this blog on my iPad (on which I’m also writing a novel) and I now read 90% of my books and newspapers on it.
Interestingly, Celia Stone from Irlen North-East (who tested all 3 of us) is currently working with a driving school to test people who struggle with their driving, so perhaps I’m not the only one who has issues that aren’t to do with dyslexia, but that can be helped by a bit of colour. I do though believe that I’m a right-brain thinker (like both Matt and Molly), and so maybe that’s where the overlap lies……
In summary then, I think there are 3 issues here, and they are that:
1. Dyslexia isn’t just about reading and writing – my husband and daughter struggle as much if not more with problems with short term memory and concentration. However, neither would have been able to learn to read and write (my husband had the reading/writing age of a 6-year old when he was 18) without their glasses.
2. Irlen Syndrome isn’t just about dyslexia – just under half of dyslexics also have Irlen Syndrome, but it’s fairly standard now for all dyslexics, and most suspected dyslexics in school will be given a coloured overlay to use.
3. We still don’t really understand these condition and how they relate to each other and overlap.
Here’s the full article:
Lenses Opened Up a New World to Family With Rare Syndrome
All three members of the Holmes Family suffer from Irlen Syndrome. Catherine Scott finds out the condition and what it is like living with it.
People may look twice at Matt and Lisa Holmes and their daughter Molly in their blue-tinted glasses. But this is no fashion statement.
The Holmes family from Huddersfield have all been diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome – a condition which makes it dificult to read and write without the coloured lenses.
Matt and Molly, who will be nine later this month, are also dyslexic. But Lisa is nt and she only discovered she had Irlen when she was doing a test for the condition with Molly.
‘As I went throught the questions with Molly I kept answering ‘yes’ to a lot of them myself. So I started to wonder whether everyone had a little bit of it in varying degrees. But Celia Stone who was doing the test said not and after testing me said that I had it.’
Lisa suffered from sever migraines and struggled with bright lights and reading on a computer screen, quite a handicap for a journalist and TV producer.
‘As son as I was given the blue lenses everything changed. The headaches went and now I use an iPad all the time, even for reading newspapers, something I couldn’t have done before. I wear the glasses all the time and it has really made a difference to my life.”
Matt is a successful businessessman. He was a director for a London law firm before setting up award-winning online accounting software pionneer Liquid Accounts. He left Liquid Accounts at the end of 2011 and is now a consultant.
Not bad for a mand who couldn’t read a book until he was 18.
‘I really struggled at school’, he explains. ‘I was kicked out of primary school at the age of sven because they said they couldn’t teach me.’
His parents had no option but to send him to private Woodhouse Grove which had a special dyslexia unit run by Celia Stone.
At the age of 18 he’d been kept back a year and was still taking his O-levels with no prospect of going to university and was contemplating becoming a gardener. But Celia changed his life.
‘She was just learning about Irlen. She suggested that I take the test for the syndrome.’
Getting his first pair of tinted lenses was the start of Matt’s education.
‘I manage to read my first book at the age of 18′, he says.
‘At school I had managed to find ways around my dyslexia. I couldn’t spell the number eight and so I would find ways to avoid using it. Even after school I avoided writing cheques for that reason.’
He retook his exams and passed, before moving to university to study engineering and then a degree in Computer Science and Management.
‘It was strange doing engineering as there is a lot of maths in it. I could understand the thearoy and the more advanced maths but I didn’t have the basics.’
When Molly was born, both Matt and Lisa monitored her development for signs of dyslexia.
When she turned five they realised she might have a problem when she told them that the words were moving on the page – a common symptom of Irlen.
‘We knew there was something wrong as she just didn’t want to go to school’, says Lisa. She was tested and given Irlen lenses which she has to have changed every year as she develops.
‘She started with red, then green and is now on blue’, says Matt. Now Molly ovess to read and is above he reading age. She is more than happy to go to school and is exceeding all expectations.
But the Holmeses are still frustrated about the lack of knowledge among teachers about Irlen.
‘Even the special educational needs teacher at Molly’s school didn’t realise that Irlen was linked to her dyslexia. She said it was a vision problem but it is much more than that’, says Lisa.
‘I have done a lot of research into dyslexia and Irlen and we are backing calls by the British Dyslexia Association for teachers to be made more aware of it.’
As for Matt he sees Irlen as different from his dyslexia.
‘I try not to let it bother me too much. Dyslexia is what’s formed me and no I wouldn’t have it any other way. You are never cured of it, you just learn to live with it the best way you can, and that was why we wanted to make sure that Molly was caught early.’
Living in a house full of dyslexics is challenging, says Lisa who writes a blog, http://www.blessedarethecheesebrains.com, about it.
‘Cheese brain is the phrase coined by Matt and Molly abobut their brain being wired differently to mine’, says Lisa.
The hardest things is their lack of short term memory. I once asked them to go to the shops for me. We only needed four things so they decided to remember two each. They came back with three things because no-one could remember the fourth. That’s what I have to deal with all the time.’
Matt accepts he processes things differently from other people.
‘On a positive I am able to look at things from a different perspective when it comes to problem solving, although it did take me until I was 33 to work out how to put a key in a lock and unlock the door. When I eventually thought of how it worked from an engineering perspective I got it.
‘The other day I was helping a friend put up a gazebo and there were no instructions, so my friend said there was no way we could do it.
‘I thought about the pieces we had and built it in my head and within minutes we had done it, so there are some advantages.’
Matt knows that he and his family owe a lot to his early school teacher, Celia Stone.
‘Without Celia I would never have been able to go into higher education so who knows where I would be now!’
Living with Irlen Syndrome
Irlen Syndrome is a specific type of perceptual problem that affects the way the brain processes visual information. It is not an optical problem.
For those with Irlen Syndrome, the brain is unable to process the full spectral light. This results in:
- a range of distortions in the environment
- a range of distortions on the printed page
- physical and behavioural symptoms
It is exacerbated by environmental factors such as lighting, brightness, glare, high contrast, patterns and colours. Irlen Syndrome affects people of all ages.
For more information visit www.irlenuk.com