Visual Stress & Visual Processing Difficulties

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A guide to Irlen Syndrome and how schools can respond to ensure the needs of students with the condition are met. For more: www.HumansNotRobots.co.uk

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Visual Stress & Visual Processing Difficulties:

Visual Stress & Visual Processing Difficulties Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome Irlen Syndrome Visual Dyslexia © Matt Grant, 2013 www.HumansNotRobots.co.uk

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The cornea is a thick layer of transparent cells which protects the eye and focuses rays as they enter the eye. Fine tuning to this focusing is carried out by the lens. The optic nerve carries electrical impulses to the brain where the image information is processed. The iris controls the size of the pupil. The lens focuses rays on the retina. The pupil is a small hole in the iris that lets in light, like the aperture of an old-style camera. Around the back of the eye is nerve tissue known as the retina. This tissue is made up of two types of cells. The rod cells are highly sensitive to light. They can potentially detect a candlelight from 14miles away. The cone cells are less sensitive to light and more sensitive to colour. Cones usually increase in density towards the optic nerve. The Human Eye – ‘Window to The Soul’

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The Human Eye - 5 Amazing Facts 1. With 2million working parts, eyes are the second most complex human organ after the brain. 2. The eye works by detecting light bouncing off objects. It contains over 12million light sensitive cells to perform this task. 3. The human eye can distinguish 500 shades and can detect over 10 million variations in colour . 4. A fingerprint has 40 different unique-to-you characteristics whereas an iris has 256 unique-to-you characteristics , hence the growing use of iris scans for security purposes. 5. The eye is said to contribute to 85% of our knowledge , with 80% of our memories made up of ‘recorded’ images .

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But hi-tech hardware also requires equally super software… Imagine a computer, with all its parts and pieces, many of which are too complicated for most people to understand. No matter how intricate and complicated the equipment is—without software, it can do nothing. Your computer will not even turn on without some form of software telling the hardware what to do. The same can be said of the eye.

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The Eye-Brain Connection From the electro-signals received transmitted by our eyes, the brain is able to construct a high resolution 3D colour representation of 'the world out there'. Furthermore, without conscious effort on our own part our brains are constantly processing and reprocessing all the visual information received so far to create stored representations of people within our community, of food and drink, of our environment and so on.

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What do you see? a young lady in a glamorous coat ? or an old lady wrapped up warm ?

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“It is your mind that creates this world.” ― Gautama Siddhartha

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Also known as Scotopic Sensitivity, Irlen Syndrome or Visual Dyslexia . It is believed that this condition significantly affects approximately 12% of the population. There are estimates around 20-50% could be placed on the spectrum as having identifiable traits. It is caused by heightened light sensitivity in the eye and/or the brain incorrectly processing information (i.e. it is neurological). It is not directly caused by deficits in acuity. Occurs most severely under artificial lighting and/or when reading standard black and white texts. What are ‘visual stress and visual processing difficulties’?

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It is part of a family of specific learning difficulties – with many crossover points. Dyspraxia Dyslexia Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Moderate / Generalised Learning Difficulties Autistic Spectrum Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Visual Stress and Visual Processing Difficulties What are ‘visual stress and processing difficulties’? NOTE: It is still disputed as to whether it forms a standalone condition or an aspect of other conditions.

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Primary Symptoms: 1. Sensitivity to Light 2. Contrast Problems 3. Restricted Field of Vision 4. Restricted Depth Perception 5. Fatigue How do visual stress and visual processing difficulties present?

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How do visual stress and visual processing difficulties present? 1. Light Sensitivity  glare from spotlights (e.g. from on-coming headlights on cars)  glare from surfaces (e.g. glaring spots / patches on shiny surfaces)  fluorescent lights  bright sunlight  ICT screens … all cause discomfort More or less the equivalent of this...

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How do visual stress and visual processing difficulties present? 2. Contrast Problems  bold black text on bright white paper - the text or the background may appear to move  stripe patterns and bold patterns such as those on clothes, carpets, wallpaper, posters etc. can appear to move intricate patterns / very small text may appear to move More or less the equivalent of this...

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How do visual stress and visual processing difficulties present? 3. Restricted Field of Vision  when only a few letters on a page appear clear and the rest of the page appears out of focus  difficulty keeping track of where you are on a page  difficulty scan-reading a text when time is limited “Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate--with the best teachers- -the insights, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history . They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere . Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses. Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.” ― Carl Sagan, Science as a Candle in the Dark “Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate--with the best teachers--the insights, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history. They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses. Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.” ― Carl Sagan, Science as a Candle in the Dark More or less the equivalent of this...

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How do visual stress and visual processing difficulties present? 4. Restricted Depth Perception  difficulty judging the distance and the relationship between objects  can cause difficulty with ball sports, escalators, crowded areas (people or furniture), driving and cycling More or less the equivalent of this... actual perceived

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How does visual stress and visual processing difficulties impact reading? The text appears blurred with the black interfering...

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How does visual stress and visual processing difficulties impact reading? The text appears washed out with the white interfering…

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How does visual stress and visual processing difficulties impact reading? The text appears to have streams of white / light running through it…

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How does visual stress and visual processing difficulties impact reading? The text appears to wriggle on the page…

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How does visual stress and visual processing difficulties impact reading? The text appears to swirl… For more info: www.irlen.com/distortioneffects.php

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How do visual stress and visual processing difficulties present? 5. Fatigue  difficulty staying on a task such as reading or studying  restlessness  tiredness - bouts of exhaustion  needing to take frequent breaks Brain activity of a person without visual stress and visual processing difficulties. Picture source: www.irlensyndrome-chawkins.blogspot.co.uk Brain activity of a person with visual stress and visual processing difficulties.

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Primary Symptoms: 1. Sensitivity to Light 2. Contrast Problems 3. Restricted Field of Vision 4. Restricted Depth Perception 5. Fatigue How do visual stress and visual processing difficulties present? Secondary Symptoms: 6. Irritability 7. Low Attention Span 8. Restlessness 9. Limited Comprehension 10. Avoidant Behaviour

Through the eyes of people with visual stress and visual processing difficulties….:

Through the eyes of people with visual stress and visual processing difficulties…. Alison Hale’s Story: www.hale.ndo.co.uk/scotopic/index.htm David Accola’s Story: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9N5qbMFtKQ4

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What causes visual stress and visual processing difficulties? 3 Theories of Causation 1. biological - structural 2. psychological 2. biological - chemical

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Theories of Causation: Biological – Structural  ‘A Problem with Hardware’ The fovea is responsible for sharp central vision (also called foveal vision), which is necessary in humans for reading, watching, driving, and any activity where visual detail is of primary importance. This area is populated primarily by colour sensitive cone cells with light sensitive rod cells positioned on the very periphery. It is thought individuals with visual stress and visual processing difficulties have differences in rod and cone positioning which in turn leads to the ‘interference’ of light in colour processing. Regular Structuring Irregular Structuring

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Theories of Causation: Psychological  ‘A Problem with Software’ pupil retina 1. Light, as it reaches the eye, stimulates the cones and rods that make up the retina at the back of the eye – converting it into electro-signals. 2. This information is then processed by the magnocellular and the parvocellular pathways (wiring of the brain) before entering the visual cortex. The parvocellular pathways processes still images, colour, fine detail and high contrast. The magnocellular pathway processes large outlines, position, motion, shape and low contrast. 3. In individuals with visual stress and visual processing difficulties, it is thought the parvocellular pathway operates more slowly whilst th e bundle of cells that make up the magnocellular pathway are smaller . This creates distortions in the images being received. parvocellular bundle (90%) lens magnocellular bundle (10%) visual cortex (peripheral, motion, large images) (central, still images, fine detail)

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Theories of Causation: Psychological  ‘A Problem with Software’ 4. Furthermore, it is also believed the magnocellular pathway is far more responsive and takes the initial processing role when a new image is presented. This is related to our peripheral vision, stemming from our evolutionary background as hunter-gatherers (and potential prey for other hunters!). 5. The parvocellular pathway, related to central vision, typically ‘kicks in’ when an image in honed in on (such as a text) and takes priority. In turn, the magnocellular pathway should then ‘power down’. However, it is thought that in students with visual stress and visual processing difficulties, there is a disorder / delay in this process which leads to a clash between the two pathways. This may explain why text appears to move. magno magno parvo parvo Neuro-Typical VS&VPD magno magno parvo parvo Diagram derived from Irlen Screener Training in Nov 2012, delivered by Irlen Centre North West - www.irlen.org.uk

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Theories of Causation: Biological – Chemical  ‘ A Problem with Fuel Systems’? Research by Stevens (1995/96) and Robinson et al (1999) has indicated possible links between bio-chemicals, such as fatty acids, and visual problems typically found in students with dyslexia. There are also initial links being made with other conditions such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

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How can educators respond to the problem? 1. Identify learners who experience visual stress and visual processing difficulties. 2. Adapt the environment to make it generally more comfortable / conducive to learning. 3. Equip individual learners with assistive equipment  ‘colour intervention’.

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Educator Responses: Spotting Possible Issues in Your Classroom The student reads slower / more labored than peers of a same age. The student needs to reread and reread again for comprehension. The student’s written work takes longer to produce. The student works hard and understands the material but performs poorly on tests. The student prefers discussion work or practical work. The student frequently asks for the lights to be dimmed. The student is noticeably more restless / distracted when sat in front of a computer screen.

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The Helen Irlen Method: (delivered by approved screeners) The assessment begins by looking at an individual’s experiences of reading : eye fatigue, excessive blinking, blurred vision, difficulty with concentration, word movement etc. The individual is then asked to respond to a set sequence of visual tasks . This includes working with a variety of intricate images, reading selected printed material for content etc. Results of these tests are interpreted, using a set process , to determine if an individual has substantial difficulties that require a specialized approach. Free initial ‘self-tests’ are also provided by the Irlen Institute – www.irlen.com/index.php?s=selftests Other established methods: Intuitive Colorimeter system, by Arnold Wilkins ChromaGen Educator Responses: Formal Screening / Diagnostic Assessment A Word of Caution Unlike most other learning difficulties, the assessment / treatment of visual stress and visual processing difficulties takes place within a commercial, profit-led market. The providers of these services are in competition and typically contest each other’s methods and products.

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Educator Responses: Adapting The Learning Environment Dim the lights slightly by switching off one or two rows of fluorescent light strips – ask students their opinions on preferences, most will respond sensibly! If the whiteboard screen is not being used, switch it off or cover the projector (many now have a slide on the front to enable this). Use pastel coloured backgrounds (pale blue, pale green, creamy yellow, light grey) for PowerPoint presentations. Avoid intricate fonts for PowerPoint. Consider using some of your budget to print extended reading and written tests on pastel coloured paper. For further info: Search for ‘Dyslexia Style Guide’

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Educator Responses: Equipping Learners – ‘Colour Intervention’ Treatment for visual stress and visual processing difficulties is centred around using colour to dampen contrast and filter light. The following simple, relatively inexpensive equipment can be used: A coloured line tracker and/or overlay canassist with reading printed text. A coloured overlay, either physically placed on the screen or using software, for computers can increase user comfort. A writing / reading slope can help reduce glare. In more severe cases, glasses can be prescribed. However, this is usually at a high cost as it requires a specialist assessor. A Word of Caution (again) Unlike most other learning difficulties, the assessment / treatment of visual stress and visual processing difficulties takes place within a commercial, profit-led market. The providers of these services are in competition and typically contest each other’s methods and products.

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Adaptive Software: www.amarsagoo.info/tofu/ www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw/vision www.michelf.ca/projects/black-light/ www.fx-software.co.uk/assistive.htm

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Educator Responses: Equipping Learners – ‘Colour Intervention’ Source: www.irleneast.com/research_into_irlen.htm

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Further Reading:

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“Children who have undiagnosed SSS (Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome) might remain in the special education system for years, at great expense to the district. It’s not unusual for people diagnosed as learning disabled to be having problems with SSS. They might be placed in a resource classroom with a resource teacher or in a self-contained classroom or, in some rare cases, be misdiagnosed as mentally retarded. They are then remediated based on the results of standardized tests. They can make progress, but it probably will be limited. Usually, no matter how much energy or effort is put in, no matter how much the curriculum is modified , no matter how many methods or modes for teaching are implemented, those children will seem to encounter obstacles to their learning. They still make inadequate progress or maybe don’t move along at all. It’s as if something is holding up their learning. Nobody knows what that thing is, but every time you try to introduce a new way of teaching, some unknown factor blocks the way. So learning just doesn’t progress, or it progresses only so far. Remediation just continues to make the children stupid and lazy. It’s as if you’ve skied for a long time but can’t parallel ski and never understood why. You don’t particularly enjoy skiing since it is such hard work, but you keep on trying. You look around when you ski and think there must be something you can do. There must be a little trick, but you don’t know it. You keep trying to find out what that trick is by watching others. Nothing works! You can’t improve, so skiing remains a chore – tiring, frustrating, and exhausting. That’s what a lot of children do with reading. They can’t understand what’s holding them back. What’s keeping them from flowing easily across the printed page? What’s stopping it from coming automatically? They watch everyone else and say, “This person is bending over when they read so I’ll try bending over when I read.” Or, “I’ll try mouthing the words when I read.” Or, “I’ll try using my finger when I read.” Or, “There has got to be some little trick that will help is happen for me. Because everybody else can do it and I can’t.” Or “Everyone always told me to just try harder and I could do better, but no one ever told me how!” In skiing, a person can go down the slopes and watch everybody fly by and think, “Why can everyone else do it and I can’t, unless there is something really wrong with me?” In education, if professionals are unable to pick up those critical elements that are holding back the process, then students will be able to get only to a certain point and no further. That’s what is happening to children who are diagnosed as learning disabled without the recognition that Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome might be a critical element of their learning disability. That does not mean SSS is the only element; there are many reasons why a child or adult is having problems learning.” - Helen Irlen, Reading by the Colours 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1011111213 1415 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

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“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

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Copyright , Matt Grant, 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to present this material and distribute freely for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided this copyright notice and those in the slides remain intact and is included in the distribution. If you modify this work, please note where you have modified it, as I want neither credit nor responsibility for your work. Modification for the purpose of taking credit for my work or otherwise circumventing the spirit of this license is not allowed, and will be considered a copyright violation. Any suggestions and corrections are appreciated and may be incorporated into future versions of this work, and credited as appropriate. If you believe I have infringed copyright, please contact me via the above website and I will promptly credit , amend or remove the material in question. Distorted text images on slides 15 – 19 courtesy of Tommy Grant (Graphic Designer). For further resources or to contact the author, please visit : www.HumansNotRobots.co.uk

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