Irlen Syndrome Comes Into the Light

Amy Mevorach
Brooke Lyons, Trace Bowman, and Dorie Cameron
Issue Date: 
November, 2018
Article Body: 

A visual processing disability known as Irlen Syndrome is not commonly known, though it occurs frequently and can have debilitating symptoms. Irlen Syndrome is a light sensitivity to certain colors of light waves, and symptoms manifest in a variety of ways, such as dizziness, headaches or, when reading, a perception that words on the page are moving or blurred. A simulation of what text might look like to a person with Irlen Syndrome can be viewed on the website,
As part of International Irlen Awareness Week, Dorie Cameron and her colleagues at ISAM organized a drop-in event at the Morse Institute Public Library on October 13. Julie Sacchetti, MS, Sherri L. Schultz, M. Ed., and Tracy Bowman, and Dorie Cameron are co-chairs of the volunteer organization ISAM, the Irlen Syndrome Association of Massachusetts. The event offered food, activities for kids, and raffles to raise money for research, screening and lenses for people in Massachusetts. Insurance does not yet cover the cost of Irlen support.
“The solution is simple,” said Cameron. “Color.” Color overlays tailored to each person filter the visual stimuli that otherwise would overwhelm the brain.
Helen Irlen, an educator, therapist, and scholar, recognized in her research that children and adults with learning and reading disabilities greatly improved their competency when the reading material was covered with colored acetate sheets. Now there are more than 170 affiliated Irlen Clinics, and at least 10,000 educators trained in Irlen Method. Many schools include Irlen testing in their regular student screenings. If Irlen screenings were implemented in all Massachusetts schools, Cameron said, “it would save the state $67 million per year in special ed costs.”
Cameron has received training as a screener for Irlen Syndrome. In severe cases, she will refer a patient to an Irlen diagnostician for custom lenses. Irlen is a hereditary disorder which can also result from concussion or traumatic brain injury. “It is not detected by eye doctors, special education screenings or IEP (Individualized Education Program). Some people think it’s not real,” said Cameron.
Brooke Lyons, a special education teacher who has been diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome herself, received colored lenses. “This has changed my entire life,” she said. “I’ve always had extreme light sensitivity and no depth perception. As a child, I received intervention for reading. Everything took so much more effort.” Optometrists found nothing wrong with her vision, but following her Irlen diagnosis, she gained depth perception. “When I hike, I have to stop and look because it’s so spectacular. It’s like seeing for the first time. I can’t believe color can change my world.”
Having witnessed transformations such as Lyons’, Cameron is passionate about promoting awareness. She speaks at schools and other venues to educate and advocate for Irlen interventions. “It has taken 18 years of lobbying to get it in schools,” Cameron said. In schools that have integrated Irlen into routine testing, large percentages of students are removed from special education designation.
Cameron and her husband, Rick Felty, have authored a children’s book called “Super Color Rangers,” in which four children use color to battle villains who embody some of the challenges of the syndrome. “It is a gentle way to introduce the concept and treatment,” Cameron said. Sales from the book raise money for Irlen Syndrome Association.
If you would like more information or to schedule a screening, email [email protected] or call (508) 872-1010 extension 101.