Do you have a child who struggles with reading?  I do.  We’ve worked on it in every way possible, but the struggle is still there. That’s why, when a friend mentioned checking into Irlen Syndrome, I jumped all over it. Irlen Syndrome is a sensory processing problem that affects how the brain and eyes work together.  If you have Irlen Syndrome you can experience headaches, light sensitivity, poor coordination, and many, many problems with reading.  Letters and words can look distorted, move, shift, fade out, and more, which can all make reading extremely difficult.  If your child finds reading to be utterly exhausting, this may be the problem.  You can do a self-test here to see if your child has symptoms of Irlen Syndrome.


After doing a self-test, we decided to find a practitioner and do a screening. There are two levels of testing with Irlen. The first is a screening that takes about 2 hours. It determines if your child has Irlen syndrome and gives you tools to help with reading and writing.  In my daughter’s case, we learned that processing visual input really is harder for her and that bright lights and glare make it much worse. We also determined that reading and writing on white paper is very difficult for her.  The screening led us to find out that for her, a nice light blue, they refer to as turquoise, made reading easier.  Irlen sells overlays we can put over a page as she reads. They also sell paper in many colors, but so does our local office supply store.  So, the day after our screening, I was able to go get some blue paper and order a blue overlay to make schoolwork easier.

Proving to my husband this is Real

My example for my husband of how reading on different colors “feels” different.

Does this sound kind of crazy to you?  It sure did to my husband.  To help him understand what we were doing, I created the cards in the picture and asked him to read them and tell me if any of them were easier to read than others. Where our child likes the blue best, for him, the yellow was easier to read. Without ever having done this test, he has preferred to write on yellow legal pads since high school. It just makes the words easier to read for him.

Do you find one of those harder or easier to look at? I definitely like reading off some of the colors better than others. For the record, these are not the official Irlen colors, but just the colors of the cards I had on hand. Irlen testers have many more colors to consider. But this simple demonstration lets us experience how using a different color can help without doing a true screening.

Where do we go from here?

As an occupational therapist, the concept that the sensory system of one person works differently than another person isn’t shocking. The brain and the sensory system works differently for many people and can cause all kinds of struggles. What has been surprising is that I had not heard of this before and didn’t realize the difference it would make for my child. The screening has resulted in so much change, that we decided to do the second step of testing. This means we will be doing diagnostic testing for glasses that will help the brain process the incoming information easier. I will let you all know how that goes in a future post.

What do you think? Does this sound like your child?

Does this sound like something your child may be experiencing?

If you want to learn more about Irlen Syndrome, the website for the Irlen Institute has some great information. And there is a video on this website that demonstrates how words can move around on the page for some people who experience Irlen Syndrome. Watching this video with my child was amazing. They instantly identified with one or two of the ways the words moved and could finally articulate to me what happens when they read that they didn’t have words for before. If you have any questions about this that you’d like to ask me, please feel free to reply in the comments or reach out to me via the company email or Facebook.

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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