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At, we strongly recommend all staff in the teaching profession be made aware of Meares-Irlen Syndrome.

What is Meares-Irlen Syndrome?
Meares-Irlen Syndrome is a form of visual stress, resulting in increased difficulty reading, amongst other fine tasks. Meares-Irlen Syndrome affects people with epilepsy, migraines, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as people with dyslexia and other conditions.

What are the symptoms of Meares-Irlen Syndrome?
Symptoms can affect reading as well as general tasks. In terms of reading, it includes letters or words moving, spinning or jumping off the page. This results in a slow reading pace, hesitancy when reading, skipping words or lines, and poor understanding of reading material. General symptoms include clumsiness or being prone to accidents. There may also be difficulty in certain physical activities, such as catching a small ball.

What is the treatment for Meares-Irlen Syndrome?
There is no cure for Meares-Irlen Syndrome. There are two main methods that are used to reduce the effects of the visual stress, and the success of both is variable. The first is regular eye exercises in an attempt to improve coordination between the two eyes. This is usually arranged with an orthoptist. The second is using coloured overlays or tinted lenses in glasses. Some people report that printing or writing on appropriately pastel coloured paper is also helpful in reducing the visual stress.

What are coloured overlays?
If a person is suspected as having visual stress, they may be assessed with coloured overlays. Coloured overlays are transparent sheets of plastic which can be placed on top of reading material (on paper or over a screen). Some people with visual stress report the colour of the overlay relieves the visual stress. There is a systematic method to determining which colour is most helpful for each individual, and the visual stress assessor must be appropriately trained.

What is colorimetry?
Colorimetry, sometimes called Intuitive Colorimetry, is when a special instrument is used to determine which coloured lenses will be most effective for an individual with visual stress. You can think of colorimetry as fine-tuning of the coloured overlay process, getting the colour more precise. Once this tint colour is determined, glasses can be made up with the appropriate colour tinted lenses. These glasses can also include a prescription if required, and can then be used for any task with which an individual experiences visual stress.

How do I know which treatment is best?
Management of Meares-Irlen Syndrome requires an appropriately trained professional, and is usually a healthcare professional with a special interest in visual stress who has had additional training. This may sound obvious, but we are highlighting this because we have come across teachers or occupational health therapists who carry out “visual stress assessments” in schools and colleges, and are frankly giving wrong advice. These assessments are sometimes even referred to as “dyslexia assessments,” which is completely incorrect.

How does someone get assessed for Meares-Irlen Syndrome?
The first thing that needs to be done is a thorough eye examination. This is to identify any other issues such as needing glasses, eye muscle problems or eye diseases. The reason for this is that sometimes a person may not actually have visual stress, but in fact needs other treatment. Once a full eye examination is completed, the same eye care practitioner may then assess for visual stress, or they may refer to a different specialist.

What are the common misunderstandings about Meares-Irlen Syndrome and visual stress assessments?
First and foremost, Meares-Irlen Syndrome or visual stress must not be confused with dyslexia. Meares-Irlen Syndrome and dyslexia are two separate issues. Around half of the people with dyslexia will not have visual stress, and not every person with visual stress has dyslexia. Secondly, it is ill advised to “pick up any coloured overlay” to see if it helps. It is better to follow a professional approach in assessing which coloured overlay, if any, is most helpful. Thirdly, after determining a colour for the overlay, you cannot simply visit the opticians to have a pair of glasses made up to that colour. The colour that is required in the glasses is invariably slightly different to that of the overlays, and colorimetry is needed to determine this colour.

Last words
Undetected Meares-Irlen Syndrome can stifle an individual’s progress in their education and career. Identification and management of Meares-Irlen Syndrome with good support will result in each individual fulfilling their potential. The first step is to create more awareness of Meares-Irlen Syndrome, particularly amongst teachers.

Useful link: click here for additional information on Meares-Irlen Syndrome.

Other topics of interest: Dyslexia, Colour VisionChildren’s Glasses

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