When Jake* was born his parents had all the excitement, expectation, and generous enthusiasm that every parent has for their baby. They involved him in infant swimming lessons, took him for bike rides on his infant carrier, and moved their lives to completely embrace him.,
Of course, board books were a big part of Jake’s infancy. He loved them.
As a toddler, he’d look at books and toss them aside, picking up a toy that used large muscles, like his ride’em train. In kindergarten, books wouldn¹t hold his attention very long. By grade two he was restless at his desk… going to the bathroom, getting a drink, sharpening his pencil… anything to break the book-time.
Copying from the board took forever. Following a horizontal line across a page required a ruler or his finger on each word. Adding up sums vertically was difficult.
Jake’s printing by grade four ran up hill or downhill. His words got smaller as the letters progressed. Pictures were blurry, and sometimes they bounced off the page. In fact, lots of things bounced, including stairs when Jake was climbing them, or a ball when it was tossed to him. He looked clumsy. He felt clumsy.
Jake’s parents took him to have his eyes tested. 20-20, announced the optometrist.
Jake was headed on a downward slope, with a “troublemaker” label. He was quickly falling behind and had started to just give up on school. Sad part is that Jake also gave up on himself. His parents wondered how they got there, to this place.
It was a chance that Jake came to know Frances Morin. Frances has used her own experience to learn more about the syndrome that can permanently destroy a child’s interest in things academic. This has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with a problem with the eyes.
Frances is an Irlen’s Syndrome Screener. And Jake has all the symptoms of a person with Irlen’s Syndrome. Kids often try to hide the problems they’re having, Fran says, and she finds they are almost relieved when she tells them their problems are real. When parents or non-reading adults first call her, Fran sets up an appointment for a screeing that takes about two hours. She asks a lot of different questions. Children and parents both participate.
What Irlen’s sufferers see on the written page is quite different from what others see. Fran has diagrams that help her measure a tired eye. She asks repetitious questions, trying to pick out patterns. She listens for comments.
Sometimes Irlen’s folks see 2 dimensional things in 3D. They can read the words on one line but other lines on the page look like little worms.
Once the screening is complete, Fran works with coloured overlays, starting with one colour at a time, letting her client look through that colour, judging their feelings and responses. Working with the base colour, she layers to fine tune and eliminate as many problems as possible.
Each person is different, and while one might need only one overlay, another might use three or four. Because the printed page is reflected light, these overlays reduce movement, clarify text and pictures and calm down the overall environment.
Testing and overlays cost about $200 and Fran says this is the first step in identifying and solving what for many people has been a lifelong puzzle.
Her clients go away with their overlays and use them in their everyday situations. It’s life-changing in most cases, says Fran, and it¹s a whole lot cheaper than having your kid marginalized by the system, or cheaper than tutoring for 12 years, cheaper than low self esteem, illiteracy.
“When people go on and get the appropriate coloured lens (for refracted light) and get glasses that fit the lenses, they are dumbfounded at the results,” says Fran. ³Everyone has hurt feelings about how they went through school labelled as stupid or lazy.²
Fran told about a mother she saw recently who had brought her son to Fran for screening. After Fran completed the screening and assessed the right overlays for the boy, his parent went on to pay for psychological testing (to the tune of $1400). The psychologist supported Fran’s diagnosis and suggested the parent continue the process and order the specialized lenses.
How did Fran find out about this? She was in a course through a school for the blind, taking workshops on different disabilities and working with students who couldn¹t see black print on white boards. She then took a workshop for people with learning disabilities and during this course found out about Irlen’s syndrome. She was intrigued. She felt like she’d come home. And indeed she discovered that she, too, has Irlens.
“I always had trouble remembering things at school; words pulsated on the page. When she wears her lenses in a large group, it enables her to focus on the speaker; it reduces anxiety and let’s her learn so much more. Fran points out that should a person decide to pursue lenses after trying the overlays, they’ll find they can have glasses or contact lenses.
The overlays are great on the written page. The glasses are great in everyday life.
Fran is the only person screening for Irlen’s in the Barrie area, and has an associate who works with her. She’s offering a free seminar about Irlen’s on Monday, February 13 at 7 pm at the Community Room at Zehrs on Bayfield St.
You can register by calling Fran at 719-0549 or the Community Room at 730-1577.
What a gift for a kid who’s not at all what he seems to be. Girls, too.
*Jake’s name is not Jake.