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Visual Stress Syndrome (VSS)

A serious anomaly has plagued struggling readers. It may look like a problem with fluency or comprehension. However, Visual Stress Syndrome (VSS), also referred to as Irlen Syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity, is a neurological condition that is comprised of a cluster of visual symptoms thought to be due to the spectral variations of certain wavelengths of light.

Individuals with VSS often see the world around them as distorted. This can lead to difficulties with the reading process because they do not see the printed page in the same way as a proficient reader. We know that bright florescent lights cause some people headaches and interfere with the reading of black letters on white pages. But, for some with Visual Stress Syndrome, the text on the page may even seem to move. Words can become blurry, change shape, or reverse and the page itself may flash, separate or pulsate. (See examples below.)

The TLP Group, in collaboration with Dr. Jordan and the Irlen Institute, created PowerPath?s quick Visual Stress Syndrome Screening. PowerPath?s VSS Screening determines a level of difficulty by using an individual?s reflection and responses to a series of questions. Responses are noted, weighted, totaled and used to determine a level of difficulty: none, mild, moderate and severe.

If a participant is identified as having some degree of VSS difficulty using PowerPath?s VSS screening, the individual and instructor can determine if one or more of the ten Irlen? colored overlays (also referred to as filters) may temporarily alleviate symptoms, making it more comfortable to read, write, and focus attention under bright light.

In addition to recommending the use of overlays, PowerPath?s Individual Report suggests a variety of environmental modifications. The participant and instructor may also select other accommodations to try - wearing a cap or visor to shade the eyes from bright overhead lights, selecting a seat based upon exposure to natural lighting or being away from bright overhead florescent lighting, changing the color of paper, using a highlighter, enlarging print, etc. If these accommodations for VSS do not work, or if the screening results in a ?severe? level of difficulty, it is recommended that the individual receive a medical check-up to rule out other conditions that may be underlying what appears to be symptoms of VSS.

In July, 2007, the National Education Association (NEA) adopted to inform all NEA members about Irlen Syndrome (Visual Stress Syndrome or scotopic sensitivity) and its effect on reading. Right now... low cost accommodations, like Irlen? colored overlays, have quickly impacted students/clients achievement. As you are already aware, the GED allows caps, overlays, seat selection, highlighters, sticky notes, etc., for any student that asks for it when they take their exam...without a diagnosis.

For those who suffer from VSS, this simple screening can change their lives.

Images reprinted with permission of Perceptual Development Corp.

For more information on Irlen Syndrome/Visual Stress Syndrome, please visit

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