The other day I heard a comment on radio about the high proportion of adult non-readers in New Zealand, and I daresay the same kind of statistics also apply in other countries.
It’s not hard to draw a very short bow between academic struggles and diminished productivity, frustration, under-achievement and often poor self-esteem on an individual level.
Then add the corresponding social cost and lost national productivity due to under-performing citizens (through no fault of their own) and we end up with a huge but silent productivity drain.
Of course there are many reasons for poor literacy and numeracy skills, but a family experience recently has caused me to wonder how many kids (and adults) with visual processing difficulties are never correctly diagnosed.
My oldest grandson of 18 has always struggled with reading. He’s a bright boy but school and he have never really jelled, despite a lot of effort on many fronts and by many dedicated teachers over the years.
Sam has been living with me for the last six months while his parents have been overseas so I’ve been in a position to observe things more closely.
One night I noticed that he was really struggling to read complex and dense writing that a senior student would be expected to read.
Glasses was the first thought – and sure enough, he did need glasses for close-up work.
They have definitely helped but I felt intuitively that there was also something else.
Fortunately I’d heard of Irlens Syndrome and the Cellfield programme so instead of going to the budget optometrist chain (I’ll spare their name but they’re big advertisers with green logos) I took him, on recommendation, to an optometrist with knowledge of Irlens and Cellfield and the equipment to diagnose correctly.
Yes – the biomechanics of his eyes weren’t right.
The more I hear about Irlens Syndrome, the more I realise how common and yet how poorly understood it is.
It is not an optical problem, which is why it won’t show up in a standard eye test, nor with most other regular educational or medical tests.
It’s a perceptual processing disorder. The brain can’t process visual information properly.
My layman’s understanding is that there is too much light coming into the eye and the owner of said eyes can’t see the words properly. (I’m sure there are many other nuances).
The standard treatment is to tint the glasses, thereby cutting down the amount of light coming on to the retina of the eyes. It often runs in families – my daughter also has two sons with Irlens.
Cellfield is, or can be, a separate issue. It’s a treatment created to help people with forms of dyslexia.
Look it up and you’ll find more details, but basically the treatment is to retrain the eye to see correctly.
If someone struggles with Cellfield issues, the words will be shimmering or jumping around on the page.
None of us can read it if the words won’t sit down!
So, we’ve done the two weeks of Cellfield Therapy and Sam’s reading has dramatically improved.
It’s not a cheap intervention, but what is it worth to fix such a profound and life-defining issue?
He’s due to go back to the optometrist for further Irlens checking, and it is possible that the Cellfield Therapy has removed or reduced the Irlens issue to the point that he won’t need to get the tint on his glasses.
I share this personal story in the hope that it might help others. (The hugely supportive therapist we’ve worked with is Joanna Sharp, based at the Karaka Learning Centre, Papakura and no, she doesn’t even know I’m writing this article.)
A version of this article first appeared on the NZ Herald.