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When Picture Books Turn to Chapter Books, Watch for Warning Signs of Irlen Syndrome

The start of a new school year brings with it anticipation and excitement. Kids everywhere are shouting, “Who will my teacher be? What friends will be in my class? What should I wear on the first day of school?!” But the first day of school can also bring apprehension, resistance, and trepidation. “What if no one likes me? What if my teacher is mean? What if I can’t do the work? What if I’m not smart enough?” All reasonable thoughts for kids to have before the big day, and most of us parents find it our job to reassure our children and model an ample level of joy and excitement about what tomorrow will bring. But one thing this writer wasn’t counting on, was exactly what happens during that crucial transition from 2nd to 3rd grade. All of a sudden picture books magically disappear and are replaced by chapter books with pages upon pages of print, and what’s worse, is it my imagination, or did the print suddenly get a lot smaller too? And wait, now you want my child to participate in standardized district-wide testing? And, am I hearing this correctly, if my child isn’t reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade, she won’t move on to 4th grade? Wait, WHAT?!!!

That’s a lot of pressure to put on kids (and parents) in 3rd grade. It also happens to be when a lot of the warning signs for Irlen Syndrome will start to appear. The child that was happy to read with you when those lovely picture books had colorful backgrounds and only a few lines of print on a page starts to complain about or avoid reading. Homework suddenly becomes a struggle. Headaches start. Your happy and energetic kid is now exhausted after a day at school. He comes home complaining of stomachaches or headaches. Reading or homework is now a battle. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. In the transition to 3rd grade, the demands on kids increase dramatically — demands for sustained attention, an increase in workload, an increase in the amount of reading required, and…wait for it…performance starts to really matter. If you live where I live, you know that schools pride themselves on their standardized test scores. In fact, the school where my kids go tells parents that kids are falling behind and need extra help if they “only” perform at grade level (since they expect all students to perform several grades above).

All of these changes make for the perfect storm and that’s why right around 3rd grade is when signs and symptoms of Irlen Syndrome can start to become apparent. So, as a parent, what should you do? First, know the signs. It sounds simple, but it’s true. No one at your child’s school is looking for Irlen Syndrome (most educators have never heard of it), so you’ll have to be your child’s advocate. If you suspect Irlen Syndrome, don’t worry, it’s one of the easiest academic challenges to identify and correct. Take a self-test at to determine whether you child might be a candidate. The next steps are up to you. You can move forward with a formal screening for Irlen Syndrome by a certified Irlen Screener or Diagnostician, or you can try a few more things at home first. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you know that your child’s struggle is real, and things are only going to get worse with with time. If the increase in demands on kids in 3rd grade is enough to bring out signs of Irlen Syndrome, you can bet that the increase in demands when they get to high school or college might be enough to break them altogether. We’ve helped hundreds-of-thousands of kids at the Irlen Institute, and we know a few things to be very true: 1) You don’t grow out of Irlen Syndrome, 2) School just gets harder with each passing year, 3) Individuals who aren’t identified with Irlen Syndrome until they are adults harbor a great deal of anger about why they had to struggle for so long and a lifetime of self-esteem issues from being told they were dumb or lazy throughout their academic careers. So, know the signs and address Irlen Syndrome when it first appears.



  1. Know The Signs:

  2. Take A Self-Test: 


  3. Get A Formal Irlen Screening:irlen-staff-world-2-01Final


  4. Things To Try At Home:
    While none of these suggestions can replace a formal Irlen Screening, they may help you determine whether color might make a difference for your child. Proper color selection requires an extensive diagnostic process by a trained Irlen professional, and only the precise color selection will result in elimination of all of your child’s symptoms. However, if any color results in the page being more comfortable or easier to see than a white page of print, it is an indicator that the Irlen Method may help your child.

    1. Use the tool on to change the background color of the screen
    2. Photocopy work onto different colored paper and let your child pick the one he likes best
    3. Change the lighting from fluorescent to natural or incandescent lighting
    4. Download the Irlen Colored Overlay App to your Android phone or tablet and explore whether color can help
    5. Try Irlen Overlays to see if any seem to help