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Meet Helen Irlen and Sandra Tosta of Irlen Institute in Long Beach and Northridge

Today we’d like to introduce you to Helen Irlen and Sandra Tosta.

Helen and Sandra, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Working as a school psychologist, I became aware that many children were slipping through the cracks, not being identified with a problem or not being helped with special services and accommodations. It became evident that all of the present assessment tools were not asking all the needed questions. I wanted to know what new questions we needed to ask to help more children so that they didn’t continue to struggle for a lifetime. As the director of the first program for adults with learning disabilities at a 4 years college, CSULB in the early 1980’s and initiated a research project to find out what reading and learning problems were not being identified and addressed in these adults who were bright, highly motivated but still struggling with reading and other academic activities.

Conducting lengthy interviews with these struggling adults, rather than testing, I heard reporting of words moving, disappearing, swirling and physical symptoms such as tired, sleepy, headaches, dizziness while reading. Yet, none of psychoeducational assessments, reading tests, and other tests were asking about these symptoms. Once realizing that these were significant problems which were affecting their reading, learning, attention, and performance, the next task was to discover a method for eliminating these problems. Research and luck led me to finding that colored overlays (plastic transparencies) and colored glasses were the answer.

The use of individualized colored overlays and glasses has now been called the Irlen Method and has help hundreds of thousands to a million of children and adults worldwide. The Irlen Institute has clinics in 42 countries with the main headquarters being in Long Beach. We help children and adult who struggle with reading, learning, attention problems, light sensitivity, headaches, migraines, concussions, head injuries, and even issues of poor depth perception. We see high functioning adults who want the best brain possible for success, individuals who are being misdiagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, and those with autism who struggled with visual overload.

Irlen Syndrome is a problem with sensory modulation that causing a variety of symptoms including visual processing deficits, reading and other academic difficulties, physical symptoms, headaches, migraines and light sensitivity called Irlen Syndrome.

This is a brain processing problem and not a vision problem. Perception is a higher order processing of information and involves the brain’s ability to accurately understand and process visual information easily and efficiently without stress.

Poor visual attention significantly impacts the ability to both acquire new skills and demonstrate existing knowledge. It is extremely challenging to show progress and move through existing curriculum with low visual attention. Irlen Institute provides information and solutions that have a direct impact on people’s lives. My research is important work of solving the mysteries of resistant learning difficulties and identifying appropriate supports and interventions.

Has it been a smooth road?
There have been a number of challenges gaining acceptance for a new approach to reading, learning and attention problems. Initially, there was no research to support the Irlen Method. Today, there is a body of research related to Irlen Syndrome, Colored Overlays and Colored Filters that spans more than 30 years.

The Irlen Method and the efficacy of colored overlays and colored lenses has been the subject of over 200 research studies encompassing the disciplines of education, psychology, and medicine. To date, more than 100 of these studies supporting the use of colored overlays and lenses to treat the perceptual processing difficulties associated with Irlen Syndrome are published in peer-reviewed academic and scientific journals. Irlen has been the subject of scrutiny and criticism from a number of groups, particularly optometrists, who have sometimes suggested that the Irlen Method is not supported by scientific research and that the problems associated with Irlen Syndrome can be corrected through standard optometric interventions. The hardest struggle has been that people accept how they feel and perform is like everyone else. They did not know that it can be any better. If reading makes you tired or gives you a headache, you think that this happens to everyone.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Irlen Institute – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Irlen Institute is a female run company. There are presently Irlen Centers in 42 countries and millions of children use Irlen colored overlays to help when reading. We are known worldwide for developing a solution that helps many individuals that nothing else has been able to help. We have grown and gained success in spite of resistance by certain professional groups. We are changing lives!

The Irlen Institute specializes in diagnostic testing to identify those with visual processing deficits and providing Irlen colored overlays and individualized Irlen Spectral Filters worn as glasses to make an immediate improvement…

We address a need that no other method, intervention or instruction has been able to make better. We have self-tests and screening instruments that identify those that can be assisted with colored overlays and glasses so that no one goes through the testing who cannot be helped.

We continue to discover new population that are suffering needlessly. We have helped over 500 military men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and were living for years with headaches all day, every day that became migraines two to three times a day with nausea and dizziness. They now live pain free and say that Irlen is a “life saver”. We have helped many children and adults with autism be able to see their world without frightening and overwhelming distortions. improving their ability to function.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
LA is a vibrant city that offers a diversity of options to satisfy your every want, wish, and desire. LA is close to the beach and the mountains. There are water sports, hiking, bike trails, fishing, and options for many other sports, museums, and entertainment. LA is diverse with many different cultures. Obviously, the traffic is the least desirable aspect of LA and the traffic keeps getting worse. However, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I have traveled to many different cities and countries but still prefer to live, work and play in LA.

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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