My name is Becki Brown and my daughter’s name is Nikki.
My daughter and I both enjoyed working with Leah, and came to know her through her sister. My daughter has struggled with what I thought was a reading disability from day one of kindergarten. I have spent so much money on tutors and books and programs trying to get help for my daughter. I’ve been told so many times that she wasn’t applying herself or she needed to practice more. Summer School was suggested and after school help was also offered. My frustration level (not to mention my daughters) was through the roof because nothing seemed to be helping. Nikki would get very tired, very quickly when reading and she wasn’t comprehending because her flow was so broken. She could only read a word at a time. I got her eyes tested multiple times only to find she had 20/20 vision.
Then one day Leah’s sister told me about Irlen Syndrome. I made an appointment with Leah and she put colored plastic sheets in front of Nikki and asked her to read. She spent quite some time putting different combinations of colors in front of her until one of the combinations caused Nikki to gasp! She said, “Wait, the butterfly’s stopped moving”. Evidently the words on the paper moved around and she had no idea that they weren’t supposed to. This is what she had always known so she was not aware that words should be still. Leah educated us about the filtered lenses Nikki could wear that would work more efficiently than the colored overlays. She assisted us in the process of getting the glasses.
I am thrilled to say that Nikki went up 3 grade levels in reading and read 5 Harry Potter books in just weeks (I am not at all exaggerating). She was so excited to be comprehending and now enjoys reading for recreation. Before her glasses she had never read an entire book on her own. Needless to say, I have been in tears many times since Nikki was diagnosed. Tears of joy and relief to have finally found help for my daughter. We are in the process of getting tinted contacts made now that she is in high school.
I cannot thank Leah enough for her dedication, patience and expertise in this whole process and for giving my daughter Nikki a whole new outlook on life. We both will be forever grateful to her. I hope she given the opportunity to help many others who struggle with confidence due to a misdiagnosis such as Nikki’s.
My name is Stacy and my daughter Emily was formally diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade but had been identified as having difficulties in reading and comprehension skills at the end of her kindergarten year. We began Orton-Gillingham tutoring immediately and continued that through fifth grade. Before her formal diagnosis she was tested for vision problems and did receive help from a reading specialist who used colored reading trackers and told us she would likely out- grow her issues. Irlen Syndrome was never mentioned nor was an assessment done.
I have known Leah for 4 years and until this year did not realize she was an Irlen Syndrome diagnostician. I was discussing Emily’s continued difficulties with reading and mentioned that she was dyslexic and Leah asked immediately if she had ever been assessed for Irlens. In the many years of meetings and assessments by the school and the psychologist we have never heard of Irlen Syndrome so Leah explained exactly what Irlen tested for and what the problems were with those affected. Imagine my surprise to hear that this was never offered.
Emily was assessed and tested positive in February 2019. At that time, she was given 4 different overlays to use in combination to improve her reading. Emily was thrilled to be able to read without the words moving. She does not tire now when reading and has begun to read on her own instead of using audio books. She plays the cello and has found that she does not have to memorize her music because the notes no longer appear to be floating on the page. She can actually read it.
Not only has this diagnosis and the prescribed overlays opened up the world of reading it has also alleviated her anxiety when faced with text that has no audio component. She has changed the color on her Chromebook as well as her phone and is amazed at how much clearer “life” is. We will be forever grateful for Leah’s clear definition of Irlens and her assessment of Emily. I hope that she has the opportunity to provide this to more children and adults; it has been life changing for Emily.
Update: Emily has been wearing her Irlen prescribed glasses for approximately 2 months now and has seen a huge improvement in her reading speed/fluency. She is now able to read for longer periods of time and does not complain of constant headaches. She has also discovered, much to her delight, that her depth perception has had a marked improvement. She is a hunter/jumper horse rider and has found that her ability to see distances is now spot on. We are very happy with the progress we are seeing not only in her schoolwork but in her sports endeavors as well. Leah was incredibly patient and kind during the fitting process and explained everything in depth. You will be amazed at the transformation that occurs when your child finally “sees” what we all take for granted.
My oldest son, Gianni, started articulating in Kindergarten at age 5 that he has trouble at his "stations." He said he is always the last one done. And while he did it all correctly, his pace was far behind his peers. The teacher observed this as well, mostly when reading/word activities came into play. The teacher went on to say, this surprised her as Gianni was a well-developed child that seemed verbally and intellectually above average. But when asked to finish a task, it took him twice as long or more. When I asked Gianni to try to explain how he felt, he said everything went into a box in his head and it was hard for him to unlock that box to get it back out. This was definitely feeling like a processing issue and I have the luxury of having an Intervention Specialist as a twin sister...so I relayed this to her. She gave me some suggestions and asked me to follow up with the teacher. But the teacher reassured us and said, he was too smart to hold back and keeping up enough to push him forward.
So we went to first grade. That teacher and I were noticing the same things. Reading levels were lower than what his actual capabilities were simply because of his timing and word speed. This teacher decided to start making him wear headphones to deaden the sound around him in case it was related to an inattention issue. (Didn't help). But grades were all still high...even though he had to work longer; so no interventions came into play.
Second grade, new school. He had a very supportive teacher who was stating Gianni was not behind the curve "enough" to be concerned, but she did endorse he was slow with reading and writing, yet his content and comprehension was impeccable. He was still carrying high grades, but homework time was taking very long. Books were getting more difficult to read at a quick pace and he was starting to feel dizzy whenever he would read. We also started seeing his writing start to change, a bit sloppier. I knew something was off; so we sent him for another vision exam. 20/20.
On to third grade. State testing started to come into play and the third grade reading guarantee. I started to become more vocal about the amount of time it was taking for Gianni to finish his work, as he was not a vocal complainer at school, I was afraid they were unaware of the actual mental effort he was putting forth for each assignment. He was falling behind on computerized learning games (because he couldn't finish in reasonable time) and state testing scores they were telling us didn't align with his performance in school. Gianni would come home from testing days feeling motion sickness and absolutely exhausted. It would take days for him to recover. Reading at the end of these days was impossible. Painfully impossible. He would feel so fatigued, experience headaches, and complain of dizziness less than five minutes into the assignment.
I talked to my pediatrician. With the profound dizziness, he wanted an MRI of his brain to rule out any physiological/organic concerns. (Negative, thank goodness.) He then offered processing testing through Nationwide Children's. Eye and Hearing testing all normal. However, we couldn't get into Children's for over 6 months for processing and I didn't want to start 4th grade without more clear answers and a tangible customized plan. I wasn't fully convinced this wasn't a visual issue, as it aligned with focused work. Gianni was not inattentive, he was still able to maintain good grades, concepts weren't an issue, etc. The material and content was not the problem as much as it was looking at it. So his pediatrician referred us to a Pediatric Optometrist that another of his patients had success with. There, they diagnosed him with Severe Acute Convergence Insufficiency. Meaning, his brain was working too hard to be able to focus on things close in proximity. They could objectively quantify that he was indeed having trouble with visual acuity with close material. This doctor explained he has double vision when closer than 2 feet from his nose! (That's basically any and all school work). He went through intensely difficult eye therapy to get him to attempt correction. They also prescribed glasses to rest his brain by magnifying print. (We saw minimal improvement. The therapy actually exacerbated his symptoms exponentially. As he had to track extremely small print.) And again, my instincts were telling me we were not fully on the right track.
The smaller the font, the higher the word count, and the heavier the workload, the more we saw Gianni struggle with (out of proportion) fatigue. His effort was high, but it was literally physically draining him to get through a school day and then tackle homework.
Fourth grade was a definite ramp up in symptoms. He wasn't able to finish things on time. He would sit at the counter for two hours and just feel miserable trying to finish his work. After I became very vocal within the school system trying to get Gianni the appropriate support, the school ran processing tests and confirmed he moved slower than others, but answers and processing looked normal. His behavior was never an issue, he was calm and cooperative; the teachers enjoyed him. He achieved good grades, but it took a lot of effort. The school decided to grant a time extension for testing via 504 for the eye diagnosis; which was helpful but didn't alleviate the fact that it was making him feel physically sick.
In 5th grade we decided to put him in a smaller sized classroom at a private parochial school to ensure the teachers were able to keep better tabs on his progress and keep him from being overlooked due to class size; while also maintaining challenging-enough content. It was still a lot for him to pace with; as reading content escalates with age. To watch Gianni read 10 pages was painful. His eyes would dilate, he would complain of a headache and dizziness, and have to take a nap in order to continue. I was on a mission to help him. But didn't know where to turn. The schools were at a dead end.
He finished 5th grade, but heavily relied on the time extension with testing and homework assignments. That June, we were introduced to Irlen. It literally fell into our laps through a tennis clinic, of all places. Following a tennis clinic, my husband was inquiring about Leah's line of work, which she went on to explain her background in Occupational Therapy and current employment with Delaware City Schools. He expressed how our son had been struggling for so many years and how we have been frustrated with the lack of insight into diagnosing/identifying his issue. Leah asked some questions and based on our feedback, it prompted her to tell us about this condition called Irlen.
Gianni went through a screening process with Leah and very promptly she highly suspected Irlen Syndrome. She was able to validate he was seeing rivers and the words were swimming on paper persistently. He saw shadows and halos. The words would shoot off the paper and split apart. (He didn't know what a normal page of words looked like to the rest of us.) I was in tears when she showed displays of how Gianni's brain interprets his readings. By the end of the assessment, she was able to match a color overlay that helped his problem. Actually, it immediately corrected it. The moment it was applied to the paper he could properly see. With no rivers, no halos, no movement. He verbalized to me, "Mom, I didn't know this was what it was supposed to look like."
Leah was very calm and engaging with Gianni and made him feel comfortable through the screening. Of course it induced his symptoms through the testing exercises and she was very considerate checking with Gianni through the process and giving him time to rest his brain if he needed to. She was calm and reassuring; and really built his confidence as she was able to give voice to his obstacle and remind him that he was certainly a kid with perseverance to have gotten through 5th grade without compromising grades or giving up. He felt validated....finally.
Leah was clearly knowledgeable and articulate when explaining the ins and outs of Irlen Syndrome. She was also great about allowing us, as parents, to be involved in the entire screening process so we could see firsthand how Gianni reacted and how he verbalized his own perceptions. When she was explaining Gianni's visual distortions, it was the first time I felt like the mystery had been solved. It was an enormous relief.
Leah sent us home with a pack of purple colored overlays and some information to look over, resources to use, and also some recommendations on how to communicate his issues to his school staff. She provided a referral to Elaine Gutiwitz for a diagnostic assessment for spectral filtered lenses. And for the first time in many years since identifying a reading problem, we were able to provide the proper intervention to Gianni. The help was so immediate for him, he was able to read 150 pages in one sitting after we left Leah's home. (first time he had ever read for pleasure!)
Gianni finished up his 6th grade year and with utilization of the overlays, he is a different kid, academically. He finished six Harry Potter books in 60 days. And very rarely did we witness a return of any of his symptoms. It has literally changed Gianni's endurance and his learning experience.
In 7th grade, we explored the customized tinted glasses. It was a process finding the shade and concentration of color to alleviate his symptoms. But it has been helpful in the standardized and state testing sectors that remove the online color filtration from being employed as it has tampering safety features. This has been our last hurdle to jump; and the glasses have eliminated the need for the school to supply the overlays and computer filtration applications for screens. Gianni has dark purple lenses and wears them with confidence because he understands their benefit. His classmates have been fantastic in supporting his “difference.” And the teachers are so pleased that he literally has built in accomodations no matter the content formatting. So it’s really added ease to the educational experience.
Leah's vested interest in identifying this problem for other children/families is one that I support wholeheartedly. She is competent and capable of expanding her services without a shadow of a doubt. She is excellent with children and her kind and gentle approach is a breath of fresh air. She listens intently to both the parents and the child. She was professional and thorough; and patient with Gianni as he struggled visually through some of the content. As parents, it had been a long journey and we were emotionally exhausted after traveling down so many dead ends; but Leah was able to validate our concerns and examine Gianni with objectivity and a completeness that we had felt was lacking with prior screening entities and even physicians. We felt completely at ease working with her and would be quick to refer other families. She was a light along our path and has been instrumental in changing the trajectory of our son's life. She not only gave us answers and education, she infused our son with positivity and encouragement. I would wish nothing more than for her to be able to broaden her services and continue to bring awareness to this topic; as I fear it is not being globally considered with kids that are receiving sub-par academic help due to mis-identification of the primary issue. Leah's dedication to pursuing this expansion of services speaks to the kind of person she is in taking action and investing in making an impact with her time and talent.
She is truly deserving of this opportunity. Erin Russo, Gianni's mom