And Continues Expanding Its Reach
Long Beach-Based Firm Has Operations
In 43 Countries And Nearly Every State
By Samantha Mehlinger - Staff Writer
November 19th, 2013 – Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Irlen Institute continues to make strides in helping people with perceptual processing difficulties.
The Irlen Institute, headquartered in Long Beach and founded in 1983 by Helen Irlen, helps individuals with visual processing problems that cause headaches, reading difficulties and attention span issues. In the 1980s, Irlen discovered a syndrome in which certain people have difficulty processing visual information – essentially, the brain has difficulty processing what the eye sees. This became known as the Irlen Syndrome.
Helen Irlen’s method for treating a specific perceptual processing problem
has spread to 43 countries with more than 170 Irlen clinics since she
founded the Irlen Institute in 1983. Irlen has since written two books,
Reading By The Colors and The Irlen Revolution, which are available in five
languages. She is pictured here at the institute’s headquarters at 5380
Village Rd., Long Beach.
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville)
Today, the institute operates in 43 countries worldwide, with, according to its website, 170 Irlen Clinics and thousands of Irlen screeners in nearly every state. It is diversifying the populations it serves.
“We have discovered that many individuals are being misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder and dyslexia,” Irlen told the Business Journal. Problems perceiving light make it difficult for some people to read text on white paper or look at a computer screen, and thereby can cause attention span issues in places like work or school. Irlen said it has also been discovered that some people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome have Irlen Syndrome.
Another population affected by Irlen Syndrome is returning veterans, Irlen said, explaining that vets exposed to high intensity blasts in combat zones may develop chronic headaches and light processing difficulties.
“Every minute of every day they are living with headaches that can accelerate to migraines two or three times a day or week. All of their skills have been significantly compromised,” she explained. The Irlen Institute has worked with over 200 military personnel to correct their symptoms.
Irlen told the Business Journal she was initially inspired by her previous career as a school psychologist, in which she witnessed many children struggling to learn, a problem for which there was little explanation. She saw children blame themselves for not being able to reach the level of achievement of their classmates. “In actuality, the problem was with us as the experts, because we weren’t asking all the right questions,” she said of diagnosing these individuals.
So Irlen started to ask new questions. In the 1980s, she worked with a group of college students with perceptual processing issues. Irlen discovered that covering their reading material with colored, opaque filters resolved their symptoms.
The individuals in Irlen’s study told her that using colored sheets did not solve their everyday needs, such as copying information down from white boards or reading signs, Irlen recalled. Her solution? “I developed a concept of colored glasses,” she said. “I had to develop screening techniques so we can separate out those who could benefit from this method versus those who had other kinds of problems or issues.”
The syndrome affects adults and children, Irlen said. Because it is a hereditary problem, for every person she treats, she ends up treating a relative, she said. “The problem is a lifetime one,” she added.
After her discovery, the Irlen Method – her method for resolving Irlen Syndrome issues – went international almost immediately. A story was produced for Australia’s version of the T.V. show 60 Minutes in 1985. Irlen said that the episode “had the largest responses in the history of 60 Minutes Australia,” leading her to train professionals in Australia in the Irlen Method to meet growing demand.
Since then, the Irlen Institute has spread to 43 countries. Irlen has produced books on the subject, which have been translated into five languages.
Despite her busy schedule as CEO and executive director, Irlen continues to see patients. She reflected, “One of the benefits of continuing to see clients, even though that means I work 150 percent of the time, is that I get to expand the populations that I work with.”