We know the problem. We know how to treat it. So why is there still debate around this 'hidden disorder'?

Sponsored by Irlen Diagnostic Clinic Newcastle.

American science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic. The subtext being that without a sound understanding of the cause for the things we are looking at, it is impossible to truly comprehend the effect.

If the history of human discovery has taught us nothing else, it’s that the knowledge we don’t possess far outweighs the knowledge we do. Our brains are hard wired to look for patterns, we delineate, make assumptions and draw conclusions based upon the best information at hand. However, sometimes the smartest among us get it wrong, simply because we’re missing an important piece of the puzzle.

For example, in the 19th century physicists believed that in order for light waves to travel through the vast vacuum of space, they had to pass through a luminiferous aether, an infinite and invisible material that had no testable properties. They didn’t know what it was, they just knew it was there.

In 1887, Albert Michelson and Edward Morley conducted an experiment in an attempt to prove the hypothesis by measuring the differences in the speed of light as it passed through the aether, hoping to find resistance.

Instead, they discovered that the speed of light was consistent. Their experiment was a failure but it also paved the way for Einstein’s Theory of Relativity more than fifty years later, which disproved the existence of the aether once and for all. 

The nature of scientific break through is dependent upon empirical data and experiments that can be repeated time and again and always produce the same results. But what happens when there is a naturally occurring phenomenon for which we know the trigger and how to treat it but we can’t pin point the physiological cause?  

Well, Dr Joan Brien, Ph.D. says, you end up with the current state of play over another light based quandary.

Dr Brien has been working with sufferers of Irlen Syndrome for years. In fact, she even runs her own diagnostic clinic where she helps people overcome the ailment. However some peak bodies within the medical community don’t believe it even exists.

RELATED: Sometimes the smartest kid in the class is the one that struggles with basic literacy.

Dr Joan Brien helps a young person with her Irlen Syndrome by prescribing coloured lenses.

Irlen Syndrome is a light sensitivity disorder which causes visual distortion. It is believed to be common in both children and adults and can be the cause of a myriad of dysfunctions, including difficulty reading off white paper, migraines, poor hand eye coordination, trouble judging speeds or distances and difficulties with depth perception. 

It is believed to be triggered by an inability to interpret certain frequencies of light (or colours) and can be simply addressed by removing that particular wave length. Diagnosticians like Dr Brien achieve this by prescribing special coloured lenses. The same results can be achieved with tinted papers.

If a child suffers from the disorder it can arrest their development educationally. However, some peak bodies and a number dyslexia advocacy groups actively advice parents of children with symptoms not to even get them tested. 

Why, you may reasonably ask?

Because they don’t believe there is enough scientific evidence to it back up.

The problem they have with the research into Irlen is that there is no sound theoretical basis. That’s to say we can’t prove how or why the phenomenon occurs. We don’t know which part of the brain is misfiring. In fact, the only evidence we have is perceptive (people realising they have it) and the only evidence we have that the treatment works is the testimony of those very same people that the problem has stopped. Both of these things are anecdotal, which holds no real weight scientifically. 

However, Dr Brien says the only way to really satisfy the burden of proof to the standard being asked for would be to conduct large scale medical research, which would require a massive financial investment and could take years to produce conclusive results. 

The problem is that most medical research is conducted with a profit motive. So when it comes to something this complex with no pharmaceutical potential, it’s highly unlikely that we will be able to find those answers any time soon. 

Dr Joan Brien conducting an Irlen test on a youngster.

Dr Joan Brien conducting an Irlen test on a youngster.

But that doesn’t change the fact, she says, that people are suffering from the condition and we know that cancelling out those problematic frequencies allows them to function normally. 

“Irlen doesn’t just affect people when they’re sitting down and trying to read. It can also cause distortions in the physical environment,” Dr Brien explained.

“It can make the ground seem wavy or like it is coming up at them... It can also make the trunks of trees look like they’re on an angle. It can make the lines on a brick wall look crooked or wavy, I even had one patient that saw the bricks swirling in a circular motion.” 

Some Irlen patients have trouble seeing in three dimensions, which can lead to falling up stairs or gutters as well as an inability to judge distance and poor hand eye coordination.

“Some people think they’re just clumsy because they’re always tripping over their own feet or are bumping into things but some of those people are actually Irlen and when we give them their lenses, they stop doing it,” she said.

“Another symptom of Irlen is migraines. We’ve actually had people referred to us by neurologists for chronic migraines and the Irlen lenses have meant they don’t suffer them anymore.”

Irlen Syndrome is thought to be highly hereditary however it is also hard to detect. Often people don’t realise they’ve got it because it is an issue with their own perception. Things just look the way they always have, so they assume it looks normal. It is in someways a “hidden disorder”. 

But, Dr Brien was quick to point out that nobody else diagnoses the condition other than an Irlen clinic. So, if you suffer from any of these symptoms, she advises getting checked out.

For more information visit: https://www.irlendyslexia.com

Sponsored by Irlen Diagnostic Clinic Newcastle.