Joan Brien

Joan Brien

Tuesday, 22 July 2014 16:02

Learning Difficulties Newcastle

I spent the day at Singleton today, and screened four young children who were really struggling at school and they had been referred to lots of specialists in an effort to find out why they were having trouble reading. All of them had Irlen Syndrome, and were able to read much more fluently with the selected overlay than without it. One little boy could not bear to look at the white page for longer than about 5 seconds before his eyes started to hurt. Another one gets headaches every day. He said that he got a headache yesterday evening and when asked what he was doing at the time, he said "nothing" but Mum said "playing with his WI". This is a part of Irlen that is not always recognised. When playing with electronic games, children often don't wear their lenses because the games are colourful, and don't require a lot of reading. However, they emit a lot of glare so children can get sore eyes, headaches or tired eyes but don't realise that it is the result of the glare from the games. So if your child has Irlen lenses and doesn't wear them when playing electronic games, try to explain to them, that the glare is making their brains work harder than they should be.

Children try really hard, but when it gets too hard, they give up!

A little girl came to the clinic today to be screened for Irlen Syndrome. She is in Year 5 and was really struggling at school. The result of the screening indicated that she did have Irlen, but as well as words not looking very good for her, she also did not see the clinic room as a "square". In other words, she sees the world as almost 2-D so that the corners of the room just looked like a small indentation in a flat surface. After selecting the overlay that helped her, she looked through it and noticed this difference in how the room looked. Prior to this, her parents did not know that was how she saw the world, because she had not mentioned it to them. But why would she? As far as she knew, how she saw the world was how everyone saw the world.

That is why I feel so strongly about screening all children for Irlen in the school situation, because they don't self- report because they don't know that what they see is different from others and the only way we can know this, is if we screen them.

Monday, 25 August 2014 10:35

Learning Difficulties Newcastle

Did you know that some people with Irlen Syndrome suffer from anxiety and/or depression. I even see some "little people" who have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. That is sad. Whether this is a direct result from their Irlen syndrome or a combination of this along with other experiences, I cannot say. I know that some of the "littlies" who come along to the clinic, are actually phobic about reading. I have had some who cry when it comes time to read, and often it is because they have been in trouble (at least in their eyes) for making mistakes when reading. Some get anxious when they have to read to the teacher, and this can cause them to make more mistakes than they might otherwise make. I wish I could make the teachers see the effect that they have on some of these kids, and help them to understand why they have trouble reading, and that it is not that they are incapable of reading, it is just that they cannot "see" the words clearly and without distortions. Of course, the kids don't tell anyone about what the words look like, because they think that everyone "sees" the words as they do. So if your child is seeming to make silly mistakes when reading to you, or if you tell them a word on one page and then they don't recognise it when they see it on the next page, consider Irlen Syndrome and get them assessed instead of "bashing your head against a brick wall" and getting frustrated continually, and causing your child to experience stress, which can be expressed as anger or frustration or even refusal to read.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014 10:32

Learning Difficulties Newcastle

A little girl came to see me last week, along with her brother, Mother and Father. Dad has just found out that he has Irlen Syndrome (while his daughter was being assessed) and both children have it as well. The little girl sees words floating, lines look crooked and she sees sparkling when she looks at the page, and sometimes she sees coloured dots when she wakes up in the morning. She said that it takes a while before the dots disappear. Dad also said that he experiences sparkling in his vision, but he just accepted that as normal for him. The boy gets headaches and gets very sore and tired eyes after reading for a short time. He is really light sensitive, even more than his sister. A common observation of children who are light sensitive is the dark rings under the eyes. There are probably other reasons for them, but I believe that it is a certain "give-away" that they are light sensitive, and as a result, usually have Irlen Syndrome. So, if you know of someone who is light sensitive (blinks a lot in the light, can't keep their eyes open for too long when looking towards a light source, prefers to sit in a darker part of the room, shades their eyes with their hands when looking at a page in a bright room or gets headaches each school day, but not necessarily on the weekends) then you should consider that they may have Irlen Syndrome and have them assessed. We have clinics in Coffs Harbour and Taree, and I go to Singleton once a month, and our main clinic is in Wallsend.

Thursday, 08 May 2014 10:28

Reading Difficulties Newcastle

Dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome (Part 2)

I certainly put the "cat amongst the pigeons" recently when I talked about Irlen Syndrome being confused with dyslexia! (see my Irlen Diagnostic Clinic Newcastle Facebook page June 5 post). I honestly believe that most people (who do not have a definite brain development issue) who can carry out complex thoughts and actions, can be smart in every way including practical skills and planning skills, good at hands-on activities and are as clever as their peers in everything but reading, are likely to have Irlen Syndrome. The sad thing for me is that many of these people will be diagnosed with dyslexia and will go through life with this label. If you take the literal meaning of dyslexia, it simply means "difficulty" (dys) with "language" (lexia) and this can be the result of a number of things. The person may not have had much schooling, may have had a vision problem that was never identified, may have had a hearing problem that was never identified, may have suffered a lot of sickness which interfered with their education, may have a developmental problem with their brain that can make it difficult for them to learn, despite the best efforts of educators and their families and themselves OR they could have IRLEN SYNDROME. In other words, I believe that dyslexia is not a "condition" that someone has, but rather it is a consequence of what life has dealt that individual. I am inserting a link that will take you to the assessment page of Dyslexia Australia. If you look at this page, you will see that the symptoms described (including visual distortions that are reported by people with Irlen Syndrome) are virtually identical to the symptoms of Irlen Syndrome. Wouldn't it be interesting to be able to determine whether people diagnosed with dyslexia using this assessment tool actually have Irlen Syndrome? If we found that, then these people could be helped by the use of Irlen lenses and that would allow them to begin to learn to read effectively and they would not have to go through life being labelled as "dyslexic". 

Thursday, 15 May 2014 10:24

Reading Difficulties Newcastle

It is sad that the Board of Studies thinks that just giving a reading test that lasts for only a short time compared to doing a whole HSC exam is enough to determine whether a student should have coloured paper for the HSC. We have tried to explain that the fatigue can set in after a half hour or more, and may not be apparent after only a short reading test conducted at the school level, purportedly to determine if the student should have coloured paper or not.

If you know anyone who has any influence on members of the Board of studies, please do what you can to help these students, by explaining why coloured paper is necessary for some students.

Colour reform tests HSC student's resolve 

Wollongong High School student Brayden Kennedy has made one simple request of the Board of Studies - he wants pink paper for his Higher School Certificate exams.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 10:21

Reading Difficulties Newcastle

Irlen Syndrome and Dyslexia

Did you know that Irlen Syndrome is sometimes confused with dyslexia? Irlen Syndrome is not dyslexia, but many people (many teachers) believe that if a child (or adult) has Irlen Syndrome, then they have dyslexia, and that they are one and the same.

This is not the case... Irlen Syndrome is a visual processing problem that MAY cause dyslexia, but it MAY NOT either! Many people with Irlen Syndrome do not have reading difficulties but may experience other symptoms, but they simply believe that if they get tired after reading a few pages, "that is just how it is for me". It is not until they come to the clinic with their child that they realise that they have Irlen Syndrome themselves and that their tiredness when reading is actually the result of that. So if a person does not have reading difficulties but has Irlen Syndrome, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • Headaches after reading a few pages
  • Sore eyes when reading
  • Falling asleep when reading
  • Having to reread sentences because they cannot remember what they have just read
  • Words becoming blurry and difficult to see clearly when reading for a long time.
  • Being able to read, but not enjoying reading.

Read further information and comments on the following link 

Helen Irlen has reported that Irlen lenses can help children who have autism and aspergers. See the following link.

Currently, there is research being conducted in Australia to determine the impact of irlen lenses on those people who have autism or aspergers. The researcher is looking for participants to take part in this important research project. The participants have to be between 16 years and 26 years old. They have to have a formal diagnosis of High Functioning Autism or Aspergers and wear Irlen lenses. If you would like to be a part of this exciting project, go to the following link. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 10:05

Reading Difficulties Newcastle

Helping Your Child to Understand Mathematics

Lots of children have trouble transferring the mathematical concepts that they learn at school to "real life" and this makes it difficult for them to "get their head around it". Ways in which you can help them follow..

Whenever you purchase something, let them pay the person (with your money of course!) and if they have to get change, take the time to help them check that they got the right amount back from the salesperson.

Look for examples that demonstrate the concept of fractions when you are at home or out. For example, if you are cutting up a cake, cut it in half first, then cut each half into two, and then again.. while you are doing this, explain that when we are cutting something up into smaller parts, we are actually cutting them into fractions of one.

Monday, 19 May 2014 10:02

Reading Difficulties Newcastle

Coloured paper for HSC Exams.. We are still trying to get the board of studies to change their mind!

Just goes to show that if we go to the press, we have a good chance of getting the BOS to change their mind.. share this with anyone that you know of whose child is being denied the right to have coloured paper for the HSC.. Yeah!!

Board of Studies yields in HSC coloured paper dispute 

Wollongong High School's Brayden Kennedy will be allowed to use pink paper for his HSC exams.

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