What is Irlen Syndrome?

Area professionals are helping those with symptoms

by Shannon Traphagen

Man having difficulties reading because of vision problems
Irlen syndrome (IS) was identified in 1980 by American psychologist Helen Irlen, who theorized that some people experience visual problems because of how the brain interprets information. People with IS perceive reading material and their environment differently, requiring that they compensate for their eye problems, often unaware of the extra energy and effort they are putting into reading and perception.

Symptoms of the condition include eye strain while working under bright lighting, difficulty finding comfortable lighting, headaches from reading, and working at a computer. Those with IS may also experience poor comprehension, words jumbling up, text jumping off the page or moving around, and may also experience difficulty judging distances.

The cause of IS has not been confirmed in the scientific community; however, three medical professionals are working together to help those experiencing symptoms. Melissa Sawulak, the only IS diagnostician in New York State, works with Aurora Optometric Group in Elma. Using special colored overlays and spectral filters within glasses, Sawulak helps correct visual processing in patients. Working alongside Dr. Richard O’Connor, an optometrist with Aurora Optometric Group and Dr. Kelly Chwojdak of Safe Harbor Chiropractic, PC in Hamburg, they are finding positive results in the patients they treat.

Sawulak explains, “Imagine hearing static from the radio; tune the channel just slightly and the static goes away. Testing for IS works similarly for visual perception.” A patient of Sawulak adds, “Most people see an individual blade of grass blowing in the wind. For me, it was as if the grass all melted together like a splotch of paint. But after receiving the filters, I can see individual characteristics in the environment around me.”

Dr. Chwojdak, who had never heard of the disorder until a chance meeting with Dr. O’Connor, states, “Once I learned more about screening for IS I realized with the work I do, I could help more people.” At Safe Harbor, Dr. Chwojdak uses a method called Koren Specific Technique (KST). “KST helps determine a patient’s Position of Stress (POS). Once determined, I can gently correct the nerve stress that is hindering the body to help the body heal more naturally,” says Dr. Chwojdak.

Dr. Chwojdak thinks it is vital for practitioners to work together as a team for their patients, “I am fortunate to have been introduced to Dr. O’Connor and Melissa. With the additional tests we all perform, without overlap, our patients move further along and see progress.”

O’Connor agrees saying, “I work on depth-perception, Melissa tests and institutes filters, and Kelly alleviates nerve stress. It is a balanced partnership that allows the body to heal naturally and make corrections on its own.” He also advises patients who are experiencing any of these symptoms to consult their physician.

The theory surrounding Irlen syndrome and its treatment has been embraced more widely in the United Kingdom than it has in the U.S. While more clinical studies will likely occur, there are those who are benefiting now from treatment being offered right here in Western New York.

WNY Resource:
Kelly Chwojdak, D.C. is the owner of Safe Harbor Chiropractic, PC in Hamburg. She can be reached at 716.648.7613 and www.safeharborchiropractic.com. The Aurora Optometric Group can be reached at 716.652.0870 or 716.796.4183.