Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome: Learning to Learn
Imagine being a teacher who has a student who always tests average to above
average on IQ tests, who is always at level on school placement tests, and can always
grasp the concept of an issue or problem immediately. Imagine a student who is sharp and
enjoys to learn, who has 20/20 vision, and is in perfect physical health. Now imagine that
same student always falling asleep in class, never turning in homework and giving up at
the first sign of failure. This student is always verbally sharp in class but just lacks the
homework to get the grade. As a teacher, one might rate this student as lazy, lacking self
motivation, and lacking the proper discipline needed to make the grade. But in reality, the
student is suffering from Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, a disability not commonly known
through the American school system.
Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS) is a perceptual dysfunction. “A person with
SSS has difficulty processing full-spectrum light efficiently” (Irlen 29). “A person with
Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome can experience any or all of its five factors: light sensitivity,
inadequate background accommodations, poor print resolution, restricted span of
recognition, and lack of sustained attention”(Irlen 31). A person with SSS can be affected
by reading, energy level, motivation, work production, handwriting, gross motor activities,
and depth perception. SSS’s effects can be reduced and sometimes cured through the use
of colored filtered lenses, thus changing the light frequencies that the eye processes.
Light sensitivity is a sensitivity to glare, brightness, and certain light conditions.
Fluorescent lighting seems to be the worst factor, but it has been reported that there can
be sensitivity to bright sunlight and overcast conditions. The effects of this range from
dizziness to migraine headaches (Irlen 32).
Inadequate background accommodation is trouble dealing with high contrasts such
as between black and white. High contrast is supposed to be the best scenario for reading
to help the print dominate the background. A person with SSS will see the white
background competing for their attention with the black print and it can even dominant the
page by overpowering the print (Irlen 33).
Poor print resolution involves trouble reading print. The way a person’s eyes
perceive print starts to change depending on size, spacing, etc. This is the reason that
problems do not always show up until the third or fourth grade, when print becomes
smaller in educational material. Problems include letters that seem to dance, vibrate,
pulsate, jiggle, shift, or just disappear (Irlen 37).
Restricted span of recognition is the difficulty of reading groups of letters,
numbers, and musical notes at one time. This affects the individual with what is known as
tunnel reading (Appendix 1). It causes difficulty when trying to move from one line to the
next. It also causes trouble when copying sentences or words, proofreading, skimming,
and speed reading (Irlene 43).
The lack of sustained attention is the inability to maintain concentration while
doing tasks such as reading, writing, and working on a computer. It takes a great deal of
work and concentration to keep the words readable, thus requiring frequent breaks to
maintain stamina, alertness, and awakeness (Irlen 48).
Research begun in 1993 by Irlen with 37 dyslexic college students now extends to
a sample size of 1500 adults and children with learning problems. Irlen discovered an
array of perceptual abnormalities, which was named Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome.
Research indicated that 73.7 percent of readers of low ability and only 14.8 percent of
readers of high ability had Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (New England Journal of
Medicine).
David L. Long, Ph.D., Superintendent of Banning Unified School District stated
that his school district has tested the entire student body population and a large number of
the student body has been identified, diagnosed and treated for SSS. “Realizing this is not
a panacea, but another tool to help youngsters achieve, I truly believe it has indeed made a
great impact on our student population” (Long, D. Ph.D.). In essence, there is a large
number of students that are not only incorrectly labeled, but incorrectly treated and not
able to reach their full potential as a student and be a productive person in our society.
With SSS, usually the first signs of trouble start to show in first grade, and by third
grade the student is set in their study habits. In a large number of cases, the student learns
to “fake” a lot of things. Book reports are done by reading the first, middle, and last
chapters. Reading tests can be easily passed by reading questions,