Irlen Syndrome

Irlen® Syndrome is also known as Visual Stress, Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome or Meares Irlen Syndrome. It involves visual perception or eye problems – caused by the way in which the brain interprets the visual information that is being sent through the eyes. It can make reading effectively and efficiently very difficult and people also perceive their environment differently. Those with Irlen Syndrome have to constantly make adaptations or compensate for their eye problems, which involves exerting extra energy and effort.

Potential difficulties

  • Poor comprehension or misreading words;
  • Problems tracking from line to line when reading either print or onscreen;
  • Preference for reading in dim light;
  • Loses place in text or skips words or lines;
  • Words distort, blur or move;
  • Reads slowly or hesitantly;
  • Tires easily when reading – needs regular breaks;
  • Avoids reading altogether;
  • Reacts badly to white paper / high contrast;
  • Squints, rubs eyes, is wide-eyed or blinks a lot.

Writing and IT

  • Trouble copying;
  • Unequal spacing or letter size;
  • Difficulty writing on a line;
  • Inconsistent spelling;
  • Mathematical errors;
  • Misaligned numbers in columns;
  • Strain or fatigue from PC use.

Physical symptoms

  • Sensitivity to / glare from bright light objects;
  • Strain and fatigue;
  • Headaches or nausea;
  • Fidgety or restless;
  • Eye strain – eyes hurt or become watery;
  • Mood changes – anxious, or irritable.

Other effects

  • Poor concentration / attention;
  • Ineffective use of time;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Working hard but not getting results;
  • Clumsy / accident prone;
  • Difficulty judging distances;
  • Poor hand – eye coordination.

It is thought that up to 20% of us are affected to some degree by visual stress. Some experts believe that nearly half of people with dyslexia and a third of those with attention disorders may have Irlen Syndrome. It is also thought that it may be a factor in the sensory overload or distortion that some autistic people experience.

Points to consider

  • The most common and most effective way to help improve visual processing is the use of coloured overlays (using sheets of transparent coloured plastic) and tinted lenses.
  • Coloured overlays are most effective if the difficulties are mainly with reading and they can make the print clearer and more stable. They can improve reading speed, accuracy and comprehension as well as help you track and keep your place when reading. For many people they should reduce eye strain, tiredness and headaches and increase concentration.
  • Coloured filters or lenses are more suitable if people have difficulties with copying, depth perception or light sensitivity.

Other solutions include:

  • Coloured paper – for both reading and writing;
  • Use of a ruler to keep track of text;
  • Larger, clearer print;
  • Changing background colours on computer screens;
  • Avoiding florescent or over-bright lights;
  • Frequent breaks or changes of task;
  • Avoiding bright colours or busy patterns.

Contact us

Contact the Staff Disability Advisor on