Autism And Irlen Syndrome: Advice For Parents

Posted on: 19 November 2015

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects around 115,000 people in Australia. People with autism can experience several symptoms, and there is increasing evidence that the condition can cause problems with vision and/or perception of the person's immediate environment. Irlen Syndrome is a specific perceptual processing disorder that can affect people with autism. Learn more about the condition, and find out what steps you may need to take to help your child cope with the problem.

Signs and symptoms of Irlen Syndrome

Irlen Syndrome (or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome) is a problem where the brain cannot process visual information correctly. Crucially, if you have the condition, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with your vision, but you may still experience symptoms that affect your eyes. Optical symptoms of the condition include eye strain and light sensitivity. People with Irlen Syndrome often struggle to cope with fluorescent lighting and bright sunlight.

Some Irlen Syndrome cases remain undiagnosed for some time for people with autism. Some of the other signs of the condition are similar to other behavioural issues that autism can cause. For example, symptoms that Irlen Syndrome can cause include:

  • Slow reading

  • Difficulty with maths

  • Low motivation

  • Problems with concentration

For somebody with autism, a doctor will not always diagnose Irlen Syndrome straight away. You may need to ask for a referral to a specialist, who will then work with a doctor and an optometrist to identify the problem.

Available treatment

There is no cure for Irlen Syndrome, but the Irlen Lens System can help children and adults with the condition cope with the symptoms. Case studies show that the system can drastically improve life for autistic people who may struggle without any intervention.

The system uses two methods to help people cope with Scotopic Sensitivity. Some people benefit from coloured transparencies to use while reading, while other sufferers use tinted glasses to change the way their brain interprets their surroundings.

Transparencies can make it easier to read plain text, where the reader cannot normally make out the letters or words clearly enough. Experts believe that the high contrast between the black print and white page exacerbates the problem, so tinted transparencies can help with this.

Tinted glasses are particularly effective for autistic people with the condition because the symptoms often affect them all the time. Some people with autism report that the glasses help them make out faces and body parts more clearly and can cut out other visual distortions. Overall, these improvements in perception can help control some of the other behavioural challenges that autistic people face.

Getting treatment

The Irlen system is only available through designated clinics across Australia, so you'll need to find the details of your nearest location online. What's more, you cannot get treatment through one of these centres until your child has visited an optometrist. He or she will need to confirm that your child does not have any underlying vision problems that could interfere with the Irlen system. You'll also need to make sure that your son or daughter has the right prescription lenses.

You cannot just buy tinted lenses from any store. Irlen Syndrome affects each autistic child differently, so a specialist will need to personalise the solution to help deal with the symptoms effectively. Tinted lenses look almost like any other pair of spectacles, so you shouldn't worry that your son or daughter will stand out. Of course, as with any other glasses, your child can also choose a set of frames that he or she likes.

Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual disorder that affects a lot of people with autism. Talk to your child's doctor or optometrist for more advice and guidance.