Q: How did you decide to apply the Irlen Method to help individuals with autism?
A: An individual with Asperger Syndrome heard about the Irlen Method in 1990. She contacted a certified Irlen Diagnostician because she felt that the distortions described in my book, Reading By The Colors, were very similar to what she saw in her environment. She hoped that the Irlen Method might stop her misperceptions and relieve her sensory overload so she could feel better, see better, and function better.
Q: Did you actually assess her?
A: Yes, she was assessed by an Irlen Diagnostician in England where she presently lives. Soon afterwards, a number of adults diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome came to similar conclusions and were tested at the Irlen Institute in California. These individuals educated us about the benefits of the Irlen Method for individuals with Autism and Asperger Syndrome. The Irlen Method is not a cure for Autism. The Irlen Method is one piece of the puzzle for some individuals with Autism. It eliminates sensory overload and physical symptoms which are caused by lighting and misperception.
The problems experienced by individuals with Autism turned out to be similar to those we were already working with. The symptoms were not any different than those experienced by individuals suffering with learning and reading problems. However, there is one large difference! Individuals with Autism experience more severe perceptual problems. The stress from lighting, colors, patterns, and contrast bombards the system; and, to survive, individuals minimize or totally block out their environment. They may even shut down. How you ask? Some typical behaviors used to minimize the offending stimuli are looking away, looking in short glances, looking through fingers, looking sideways, or looking down.
Q: Do all Autistic individuals need the Irlen Method?
A: Absolutely not. I want to be very clear about the fact that the Irlen Method cannot cure Autism, nor do all individuals with Autism have difficulty seeing accurately. The Irlen Method reduces perceptual difficulties, physical symptoms, and sensitivity to such things as light, colors, and patterns. The Irlen Method is a piece of the puzzle for only some individuals, those who experience sensory difficulties.
Many individuals with Autism are bothered by sensory problems in other areas such as touch, smell, hearing, and sensitivities to food. Sensitivity in one area interacts and affects the other areas. Therefore, improving one area may have an effect on improving the individual’s ability to perform in other areas. Making it more comfortable to see, and to see accurately, may make sounds and other sensory input less overwhelming.
Since it may be difficult to know whether your child is bothered by light and misperception, ask family members if they have these difficulties. Often, problems with light sensitivity, sound sensitivities, and other sensory problems are genetic. Your other family members may be able to give you clues as to what is bothering your child, although the problems experienced by family members may be less severe and they may react differently to them.
Q: How do you help individuals using the Irlen Method?
A: The ability to determine which wave lengths of light are creating a problem is the key to the success of the Irlen Method. We have a unique diagnostic method for determining which colors of the light spectrum need to be filtered. The appropriate colors are worn as glasses. Each individual needs a different color, and this can only be determined on an individual basis. The technique is noninvasive. It sounds simple, but choosing the right color is critical. The wrong color can even make things worse, causing more stress and increased perceptual difficulties.
Q: I understand that you have developed a checklist which parents can complete to determine who may be helped by your program?
A: Every method should have a way to predetermine which individuals can be helped with their treatment. We have created two methods. We have a questionnaire which asks about sensitivity to lights and fine or gross motor problems related to perceptual difficulties. Then we can determine if the individual is using behaviors to reduce stimuli from the environment. Click here for Autism Questionnaire
For young children or those with little language, in addition to the questionnaire, we have the parent complete a series of activities and record the child’s responses. In their own home, the parent modifies the environment by using different colored light bulbs. We have found that there is a high correlation between the positive changes in behavior that occur with the right lighting and changes with Irlen Spectral Filters. Click here for Light Activity.
Q: Instead of changing the color of the environment using light bulbs, how about having the person wear different colored sunglasses?
A: Sunglasses will not produce the same changes unless they are the right color. The color of most sunglasses is gray, brown, or green; and these colors are not useful since they only make things darker. These colors do not alter the light spectrum.
Q: Can you explain perceptual overload?
A: Any sensation can be overwhelming: touch, smell, hearing, or vision. Touch, instead of feeling good, hurts. Smells can make an individual feel sick. Sounds can be perceived as too loud or painful. Of course, an individual can be bothered by more than one of these senses. If an individual has a problem in more than one area, then the interaction between the senses can make the problems worse in other senses.
For some individuals, lights, colors, patterns, or contrast are interpreted as stressful, causing perceptual overload. When the system is under stress, there is a biochemical change and adrenaline or other neurochemicals are released. This has a cascading effect, causing emotional, behavioral and physical symptoms, as well as anxiety, headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
Q: Part of the Irlen Method is to use overlays or transparencies for reading. Have you been successful using these overlays with Autistic individuals?
A: We rarely use only colored overlays (transparencies) with the Autistic population because most individuals with Autism experience severe problems seeing their environment. The colored overlays are only helpful to stop the distortions on the page that occur during reading.
Some individuals with Autism learn to read early and have advanced reading skills. However, they read quickly and rapidly but with poor comprehension and excessive strain. Therefore, the overlay would be helpful because it would allow the individual to read with comfort and better comprehension. However, wearing color as glasses provides greater benefit in many more areas of an individual’s life.
Q: So when you evaluate an Autistic individual, you primarily use colored lenses. Is that correct?
Q: How do you evaluate individuals who have problems understanding what you asked them and expressing how they feel?
A: Parents often ask, “Can you actually test individuals if they have no or little language, if they have difficulty expressing themselves, or if they have behaviors which interfere with their ability to cooperate?” We do not need an individual to be able to talk to tell which colors are helpful. Behavior speaks louder than words. We can find the right color by watching how the child reacts to the color. Additionally, we really do not need cooperation in order to test the child since they do not need to follow directions.
Q: Do you mean a change in the child’s facial expression and behavior?
A: We can use a wide range of behaviors to determine the right color. Depending on the child’s problems, we might be using changes in facial expression, eye tracking, sustained attention, language, or improvement in fine or gross motor coordination. It is not easy to test by monitoring changes in behavior. Certified Irlen Diagnosticians are specially trained to be able to work with the Autistic population.
Q: What are the common reports of changes by parents as well as those people wearing the filters?
A: There are a number of areas which improve; but, of course, since problems are individual, so, too, are the areas that improve. The following are the most common areas of change: (1) Depth perception improves. Changes are seen in skills such as going up and down stairs, no longer walking off curbs or bumping into things, and improved eye-hand coordination. (2) Some individuals go from seeing a flat world to being able to see a world that is three-dimensional. One individual did not see curbs; another saw stairs as sheer and reported “it feels as if you are walking off a mountain.” (3) Behavioral changes. The child is calmer and less anxious. Some of these children feel better because they no longer experience physical symptoms, such as headaches or dizziness. (4) Improved social interaction because of increased ability to see faces correctly and interpret emotions. (5) Increased ability to hear sounds and voices. (6) Improvement in thinking, listening, and communication skills. (7) Academic skills, such as copying, math and reading, are more accurate.
Q: Do individuals need one color or different colors?
A: Each individual needs his/her own color and wears that color all the time, both inside and outside. If individuals are sensitive to light and color, the wrong color can create strain, fatigue, headaches, make them sick or dizzy, or create a more distorted environment. Once the offending colors of the light spectrum are determined, positive changes happen
Q: Once you figured out the correct color, is that the color that will be worn for life or worn for just a year or two? In other words, do you re-evaluate a person to see if the color should be changed?
A: Individuals usually wear their Irlen Spectral Filters for the rest of their lives. The problems return whenever the glasses are removed. We re-evaluate each person once a year to determine whether the color is still working or needs to be changed. Colors change over time. When they change, the benefits from wearing color diminish.
Q: Is there a hereditary component to the Irlen Syndrome? And how can parents tell if their child will benefit from Irlen Spectral Filters? I understand that you feel that these two questions are related.
A: In most instances, perceptual processing problems have a hereditary component. Therefore, it may be possible to determine if your child needs Irlen Spectral Filters by asking other family members if they have any of the problems listed below. Remember, most people are not aware that they have this problem or think that everyone sees things just like they do.
Light Sensitivity. These individuals usually wear sunglasses, prefer dim lighting, and may find fluorescent lighting and glare to be bothersome. They may find night driving to be difficult because of the brightness of the highlights from oncoming traffic.
Problems with Attention or Concentration. There are two different reading styles. One group prefers to read for two hours, three hours, or until they finish the book. Individuals with Irlen Syndrome prefer to build breaks into reading. They may not read for pleasure, avoid textbook reading, or prefer to read magazines or short articles rather than books.
Experience Physical Symptoms. Those individuals who can be helped by the Irlen Method may become tired or sleepy, feel strain or dizzy, or get headaches, stomachaches, or other physical symptoms. Lighting or reading, using the computer, or performing other visually-intensive activities may be causing this problem.
Many autistic children cannot report or tell you how they feel. You may need to watch for behaviors to tell you that they are uncomfortable. Some behaviors which may alert you to this problem are rubbing eyes, squinting, looking down, looking away, or closing one or both eyes.
Has Difficulty in the Area of Depth Perception. Problems in this area can be experienced while driving, especially changing lanes or turning left in front of oncoming traffic. Other individuals think of themselves as clumsy or uncoordinated because they bump into things, knock things over, or cannot easily catch a small ball or do other such activities.
Q: If a person is experiencing perceptual problems, is it helpful to change the person’s environment?
A: Yes. There are some simple and easy things that a parent can do at home or a teacher can do in the classroom. Let’s start with lighting. The most comfortable lighting for individuals with Irlen Syndrome is indirect natural lighting or incandescent lighting. Therefore, minimize fluorescent lighting. Keep rooms dimly lit instead of bright. Try having the child wear a hat with a brim or a visor in the classroom or in stores where there are fluorescent lights.
The classroom teacher can reduce the lighting by 50% in the classroom by simply turning half the fluorescent bulbs in each fixture until they are off. If the classroom has no windows, try adding lamps with incandescent bulbs.
Be aware of the colors, patterns, and fabric you select for the walls, carpeting, and furniture. Fluorescent and neon colors, stripes, patterns, and polka dots can create misperceptions, discomfort, and agitation. Avoid using these. Soft grays, neutral beiges, and soft blues are calming, comfortable colors for individuals who have Irlen Syndrome.
If you want your child to be able to look at you, watch what you wear. Avoid wearing bright or fluorescent colors, plaids, patterns, or polka dots on scarves, blouses, jackets, dresses, shirts, or ties. Avoid wearing bright, shiny jewelry that may glitter and glare.
Q: If you meet a parent of an Autistic child AND the child was newly diagnosed AND you were the first professional they met, what type of advice would you give him or her?
A: All of us, parents and professionals alike, are looking for a cure; but until one is discovered, I suggest that parents treat the complex array of symptoms associated with autism. This is not an easy process since the symptoms are multiple, varied, and found in different combinations in each child. Finding help is a process of finding each piece of the puzzle and proceeding to eliminate one problem at a time. This may mean exploring various methods since each method may offer something different. This is a challenging and often daunting process. Identification of the various problems must precede symptom reduction.
Q: If people are interested in having their child examined, I understand that you have clinics all over the world – is that correct?
A: Yes, there are professionals all over the world who have been trained and certified in the Irlen Method. The individuals who are trained in the Irlen Method include psychologists, counselors, and educators. Click here to find an Irlen Diagnostician.