Scotopic Sensitivity and Autism
Written on 6th Apr 2014 by Sylvia Lowery
Scotopic Sensitivity is a condition that was named after Helen Irlen. In 1980 she discovered that individuals with reading difficulties were able to improve through the use of coloured overlays. This condition is sometimes called Irlen Syndrome. A number of individuals on the spectrum speak about visual disturbances that has a big impact on their quality of life.
Many individuals with autism have difficulty processing the information in the environment. Alex describes how all his senses were mixed up and became distorted. It seems that in some individuals with autism irlen lenses have helped to reduce this sensory overload.
Here are some quotes from individuals on the spectrum.
“I looked in quick glances, understood by piercing fragments. I saw cracked children, cracked steps, print, and writing. Since having Irlen Tinted Lenses, I have the sight and hearing I very much wanted.”– Richard Attfield
Donna Williams describes her experience of tinted lenses, “In my own experience tinted lenses can increase the ability to keep up with a greater range of visual information, and help to better keep up with receptive language, by cutting out certain light frequencies, allowing the brain to more fully process what’s left. The result, for me and many others, was that we could, often for the first time, process a face or an object as a whole, process the car and the road simultaneously in relation to each other, see the view outside the window in 3 D instead of seeing like a flat picture.”
However Donna Williams supports tinted lenses along with nutritional intervention and efforts to reduce sensory input. This is very important because there is no cure for autism but a combination of interventions are helpful.
Irlen lenses are recommended by Temple Grandin and Tony Attwood.
“Sensory processing problems can cause real pain; even non-verbal individuals with autism can have a problem with sensory overload. Some people are really helped by Irlen Colored Lenses.”
– Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
“I know of several children and adults (with Asperger’s Syndrome) who have reported a considerable reduction in visual sensitivity and sensory overload when wearing Irlen lenses.”
– Tony Attwood, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome
Here in the UK there are opticians who offer testing for colour lenses that use the colorimeter. This test is different from the Irlen Test. I know there is a big difference in the testing. My daughter has dyslexia and she was tested with by an optician when she was 11. She completed this test and was given lilac lenses. These lenses helped her a lot and she found it less tiring to read and her sight reading on the piano improved a lot. Six years later she was tested by the local college and this was the full Irlen Test. She said it was much more involved and she was given dark purple lenses. It is questionable whether the difference in colour was due to the differences in testing or just if her eyes had changed over the years. She also found the new lenses only helped in the college environment which had brighter florescent lights.
Here is some advice on getting tested and finding a supplier of tinted lenses.
1. You can buy colour overlays from amazon to see if a particular colour will help with reading. It is important to remember that the colour of the overlay would be different from the colour that would be needed for lenses however it is an inexpensive way to find out if the coloured lenses will help without paying for expansive testing.
2. It is a good idea to ask the optician to carry out a normal eye test and do some quick checks to see of it’s likely that you would need coloured lenses. This again saves you from going to the expense of a test that is not needed.
3. If you are a student in the UK the Disabled Student Allowance will pay for the tests and a number of universities are able to arrange the tests.
4. Not every individual with visual perception difficulties who is on the spectrum will have Scotopic Sensitivity.
5. The test is a subjective experience and it is difficult for a child with autism understand what is being asked in the test. Alex was tested when he was seven and he said blue worked best but it became clear that he had chosen blue because it was his favourite colour.
6. The tints have to be paid for as well as the glasses and this can be expensive particularly if you have children need new glasses every six months.
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