Autistic Comorbidities: Irlen Syndrome

 What is Irlen Syndrome?

Irlen syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder. There is nothing wrong with the eyes. This syndrome is due to the brain's ability to process visual data.  It is not identifiable by educational, psychological, optometric or medical tests. Irlen syndrome can be different for many different people. There is no treatment and is a barrier to learning and every day life. There are lenses that can bring some relief. 

Signs of Irlen Syndrome

  • light sensitivity
  • reading problems
  • headaches and migraines
  • attention and concentration problems
  • strain and fatigue
  • problems with depth perception
  • print or environmental distortion

Who is affected by Irlen Syndrome?

  • people with reading and learning disabilities
  • people with low motivation and people with ADHD
  • people with headaches and migraines
  • autistic people and people with traumatic brain injuries

What Irlen Syndrome Looks like


A Personal Experience with Irlen Syndrome

I have had headaches for as long as I could remember. I remember telling my parents about these headaches as young as 7 years old. I went to the pediatrician. They referred me to a neurologist for these headaches. They were debilitating and I could not move. I would sometimes vomit. 

I went to the neurologist and told the neurologist what was wrong. The doctor said I may be allergic to the shampoo I was using. It was Ivory shampoo. It did not help but I was never brought back. I had to cope with these debilitating headaches for years. I had to sit in a dark room. There are times I was told I was faking it. My eyes hurt all the time, especially when I was outside. 

I had a hard time keeping my place when reading. When this started happening, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I probably am dyslexic but there was something deeper going on. Dyslexia is not supposed to be painful. My parents told me I was faking it, so I found a way to cope.

The light sensitivity got worse and worse. When I was 32, I was diagnosed as autistic. I thought maybe it was just my sensory processing disorder associated with being autistic. A few years after I was diagnosed, I heard of this syndrome called Irlen Syndrome. This syndrome explained a lot of my light sensitivity issues. 

I put it on the back-burner until I had to walk a german shepherd for an hour in the Florida sun Monday through Friday. This was when the light sensitivity got really bad. I could not find sunglasses dark enough. I brought it up with a few other autistic advocates and they mentioned that there are prescription sunglasses tints for people with this sensitivity. 

The next day I went to the eye doctor. He took down my history. He asked me questions about my light sensitivity. He said with how I am presenting I probably have Irlen syndrome. He had me try different colored lenses. He prescribed a clear coating that filters out blue light. I also have transition lenses and anti glare coating. It took 8 days for the glasses to come in. 

For someone with this syndrome, these glasses are life changing. When I come home from walking that German Shepherd, I do not have to lay down for hours in the dark. I had to do this daily when I came home from work. I can actually function and do what I need to do during the day without getting fatigued and a major migraine. I know the migraines were due to the light sensitivity. 

I am very thankful the doctor believed me and was able to give me some relief to the pain I was dealing with daily. These coatings for the lenses are not covered by insurance but WORTH EVERY PENNY. 

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