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Parents, has your child been labelled in school as “dumb”, “stupid” or “lazy” – and faces constant, humiliating failure as a result? An undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, reading disorder could be the cause, according to a leading international expert.

“Struggling readers may actually be suffering from visual perceptual disorders,” according to educational psychologist Helen Irlen.

“Correct and early identification can reduce frustration, but it may take a team effort from educators, parents and kids alike.  Many children have trouble learning to read, even with extra support or tutoring. As a result, they may suffer from low self-esteem, and tend to give up easily, for fear of making a mistake. They try hard, but simply don’t understand why they are falling behind their peers.”

“Without proper diagnosis, students can face a myriad of challenges. These can include falling behind in school, displaying problem behaviour, dropping out of school, trying drugs, becoming involved in crime or ending up with depression. But appropriate action, including screening and intervention from educators, can save young lives.”

Ms. Irlen is the researcher responsible for discovering the Irlen Method of treating visual-perceptual, reading, attention, and learning disorders. Such disorders are known as Irlen Syndrome, which is caused by sensitivity to particular wavelengths of light, causing distortions of print.

“Children who suffer from Irlen Syndrome may read normally up to year two in school and then start to have difficulties as the vocabulary becomes harder and the print smaller. Once the distortions are removed, most can read,” Ms. Irlen said.

The Irlen Method uses coloured overlays and spectrally modified filters, worn as glasses, to enable the brain to process visual information accurately. The Method can improve reading fluency, comfort, comprehension, attention and concentration, while reducing light sensitivity.

For those parents whose hearts break as they watch their children struggle to read, Ms. Irlen provided these five top tips:

1.     Glasses may not be the cure.  Reading glasses for children may not always be the solution, according to Ms. Irlen. “When corrective lenses are prescribed, they may be ineffective in cases where reading difficulties are not due to a vision problem. For the student with a visual perceptual dysfunction, a different approach is called for.”

2.     Don’t jump to conclusions.  “Standardised tests serve as a warning sign that problems exist,” said Ms. Irlen. “However, make an effort to identify the root cause of readers’ struggles before jumping to conclusions.” For example, as many as half of the children and adults with perceptual-processing problems are misdiagnosed with dyslexia. According to Ms. Irlen, they may have Irlen Syndrome and can often be helped with Irlen spectral filters.

3.     Keep a close eye. Parents, it is not normal for kids to be tired or to have physical symptoms – like headaches and stomach aches – from reading. Observe your child, and react by partnering with teachers to explore causes.

4.     Don’t blame. Parents sometimes fear that their child suffers from a reading disorder because they didn’t read to him or her enough in formative years. In reality, reading problems are typically hereditary. Just as importantly, don’t blame your child for being “dumb”, “lazy” or stupid” – and don’t let others do so, either.

5.     Uncertain? Get your child screened. Parents should ideally screen at-risk children in year two for visual perception disorders. This can eliminate the need for tutoring or serve as an alternative to medication. Today, millions of children use Irlen coloured overlays or filter lenses to manage reading disorders, as well as conditions such as Aspergers, Autism, and ADHD. A qualified Irlen Screener can screen a young child, teenager or adult.

Irlen Syndrome (also known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome) was identified by Ms. Irlen while she was working with adult learners at California State University Long Beach in the 1980s. Until described in her book, Reading by the Colours, there was no explanation or treatment for perceptual reading difficulties; many people were misdiagnosed as dyslexic, slow learners or having ADHD.

Today, Ms. Irlen’s research-based, non-medicated treatment for Irlen Syndrome – the Irlen Method – is considered a groundbreaking solution. The Irlen Method is used in over 44 countries, and there are over 174 Irlen Clinics worldwide. Learn more at www.irlen.com.

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  • Your first step should really be accessing a speech pathologist

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  • This was very interesting and informative, thanks.

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  • My son took a while to grasp reading, more so writing. The teacher suggested extra at home tuition from me. Disaster! No way was he interested in coming home and doing school work. It all turned out though, he’s a more then capable reader and writer now

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  • Great! Its very good knowledge to know! Thanks for sharing this article!

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  • i was sick of the school saying it was my son’s fault and he needs to try harder, had him tested and it turns out he has dyslexia, it is so good for him to know there is a reason reading and writing is so hard for him and we can try different ways of learning.

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  • Good article.
    My youngest struggled in her first year at school but with some extra work she not only caught up but she also got a love of reading which is still with her now.

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  • I think reading aloud together is a massive thing to do with your child. Also patience is necessary when letting them take their time to read.

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  • A really useful article – thanks

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  • Sorry but the start of this article put me right off.. Don’t actually think any teacher would call a child dumb, lazy or stupid in this day and age and if indeed they did, I would be marching right into the school and giving them a piece of my mind as well as probably taking it even further. But seriously teachers are trained and are very caring and 99% do an amazing job. This article although informative needs to be written much better.

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  • I had never heard of this, thanks for the new information,

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  • Thanks for the article – very insightful.

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  • some very good tips for the kids that are struggling

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  • thank you for sharing, it’s hard to make my daughter study

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  • I struggle to get my kids to read :(

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  • Learning difficulties are being far over diagnosed though, they really need to issue a diagnosis to some parents of ‘failing to participate in their child’s education enough’

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  • To help your child ask the teacher/school to supply you with the sight words for their grade.
    Make silly sentences and have the children do the same. They learn and they don’t even know
    that was a lesson. I found that one of my daughters was a ‘reluctant reader’ according to the teacher. We borrowed up to ten books at our local library and she read these. I found that all my kids loved reading plays. I would download many plays during their primary school life. Having them use different voices and dress-up and they were able to present a talk in front of the class and join the debating team with confidence. Make reading fun!

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  • and try not to stress out your kid at the same time

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  • As a side note here…. If a teachers dares to call your child lazy, slow or dumb then you need to get yourself up to the school asap and demand that the teacher apologize to the child.

    My middle daughter over came many trials and when she was in High School in Grade 10 one of the Science teachers was having a bad day and called her an idiot because she laughed when one of the boys said something smart and cheeky. I understood that the teacher was stressed but dont you dare call my kid names. I was on the phone straight away and lodged a complaint. I demanded that the teacher seek out my daughter and offer up an apology and I suggested that if he couldnt control himself in regards to how he spoke to his students then he best rethink his job.
    he did apologize to my daughter that afternoon and also phoned me to apologize also.


    • I agree… My son was labeled lazy and stupid in kindergarten. The school had no interest in helping my son, who has adhd, odd and learning difficulties. Instead they blamed him and me. As a result he has fallen way behind. It all came to a head when a teacher slapped him in the face whilst also holding paint brushes. I immediately pulled him out of school and home schooled him until the end of the year. This year he is in year one at a new school and they are fantastic. The school really work hard to help my son and we all work in close partnership to ensure a great learning experience for him. He has come forward in leaps and bounds. A little bit of compassion, understanding and effort has ensured my son a great start at the new school. I cannot thank the school enough!

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  • thank you sharing this article good read

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  • thanks for sharing was a great read

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