In Part 1 and Part 2 we talked about the work of Dr. Arnold Wilkins in the U.K. and its relationship to Helen Irlen’s theories about light and color, then subequently the concept of ChromaGen lenses now making their way into the U.S. market.
Although I had read Helen Irlen’s Reading by the Colors, I hadn’t yet read her more recent book, which came out last year, detailing how she got into the application of filters in the first place. I discovered (p.19) that what led Irlen to her theories about filters changing perception during reading was pure serendipity. Here’s how it happened. It was in the early 1980s that she was asked to set up a program at a California State University to investigate why adult readers were having persistent problems with reading.
During that time, Stein and Fowler in England were publishing about the influence of binocular instability on reading disorders and investigated treating some of these dyslexic children simply by occluding one eye to establish a stronger eye dominance. Irlen decided to investigate that approach but suspected that many children would be uncomfortable with the idea of reading with one eye covered. So instead of covering one eye, she decided to have her subject wear red and green (anaglyphic) glasses, with a red filter over the page of print.
Essentially Irlen was setting up a condition that vision therapy optometrists will recognize as monocular fixation in a binocular field (MFBF). As she reports, the group of struggling readers noted that it was now easier to read. However, some reported that it was just as easy reading with only the red overlay without the red/green glasses on.
Irlen then made another critical observation. For some, the color eliminated their distortions so that the words were clear and remained still. But for others, the red overlay only made a slight difference. At this point Irlen decided to pursue the angle of investigating whether different color combinations would have a more individualized effect. Optometrists, meanwhile, continued to work on decreasing binocular instability to improve visual function while reading, principally through expanding vision therapy procedures rather than trying to establish a strong eye dominance through blocking the print from one eye. And now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.
– Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO