Scotopic sensitivity

Signs of Scotopic Sensitivity (a.k.a. Irlen Syndrome)

Points from Irlen Institute and Wikipedia with quotes and some comments.

* “Environmental distortions such that the individual sees the world in a distorted fashion. Objects can be seen as blurry, moving, changing, or even disappearing. People may look frightening, stairs may be seen as a slide without steps, and walls and floors may swing and sway.”

“Stairs confuse me.  The brain translates a stairway or escalator into a slide, which is common.  That makes your mind afraid.  With the lenses, it’s somewhat better.  But I find myself always holding the handrail and not looking down except to know where I am.”

Alan, adult with Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome & SID from USA

* “Poor spatial or body awareness.” “Problems with depth perception; catching balls, judging distance, etc.”

“It also turns out that for 44 years, I had only seen in two dimensions. Think of what a painting looks like to you.  Everything in the world looks appropriate, but they’re all sitting on a single plane.  No spaces between anything.  The first time I looked through the testing lenses, I saw three dimensions for the first time!  Evidently I was so surprised, I don’t have that memory, but my brother related it.  I recall the evening I got my glasses.  I put them on and went onto Market Street in San Francisco.  The street stretched out in front of me.  I saw *spaces*.  I truly saw distance. I sat down on a doorstep and bawled.

Alan, adult with SSS & SID from USA

“I tried on some Irlen lenses belonging to some children I know; one pair were purple and everything took on great depth the like of which I have never seen before – made me wonder if everyone else sees that amount of depth and definition? The other pair were pale blue and that seemed to make everything seem calm and less harsh, took the glare and intensity off things.”

Julie, Aspie from England

“I’m seeing 3D after not even knowing I was not seeing 3D all my life, my visual static is less noticeable, I have much better depth perception, my balance is great and I’m seeing things ‘whole’ for the first time.”

“Yesterday while waiting for the bus I was standing outside looking up and down the block. It’s like a new world opening up! The depth perception was amazing! Before I would look down the block and see the green of the trees, but no layers, no depth. I could tell cars and people were further away by their size, nothing else. Logically figuring out what the size would be if it were right here in front of me, and judging how far away things are by size. Now I look down the block and see layers and depth! I’m beginning to understand that what I see without the lenses is more like a 2-D photograph – and now I’m seeing 3-D!

“Lenses on… everything jumps out at me – there is distance, richness to the colors, the shadows are beautiful not just dark parts of the tree, I knew what shadows were before, something is blocking the light – but they make more sense now.  Look – that tree branch that has a shadow on it, it is further away than the one in front of it that has light on it!  Wow!

“Lenses off… where did it all go?  It looks like I’m looking at a TV screen.  Things move in front of each other so I know they are closer.  I see things are further away than other things even when they don’t overlap, learned from experience by the size of things (is it?  I’m not sure), but they are flat.

“Lenses on… wow even the clouds are 3D!  Amazing!!!”

Wendi, Aspie with SSS from USA

* “Mesmerized by colours, patterns, or light.” “Discomfort with busy patterns, particularly stripes”

”Some patterns and colour combinations really hurt my eyes and seem to mess my balance up, make me feel sick and are practically migraine inducing.”

Julie, Aspie from England

“In hallways, the walking stick lets me know if I am about to walk into a wall or not.  I often have to close my eyes to walk down a hallway that makes me dizzy.  The Irlen lenses have mostly illiminated this problem unless the wavy pattern is tight small and resembles ocean waves.  Then I am toast without the walking stick.”

– Miriam, adult with SSS & SID

* “Print distortions make learning or reading difficult.” “Text that appears to move (rise, fall, swirl, shake, etc.)” “Strain or fatigue. Headaches or nausea.”

“Reading can be difficult.  I still have issues with reading.  As someone mentioned, black type on white paper is difficult.  Type will distort in your brain.  Myself, I sometimes skip several lines unintentionally. Sometimes the words don’t make any sense.  I’ve had the words be nonsensical because what I saw was a white oval with a black halo instead of words. I’ve had letters move on the page.  When I was tested, I saw ‘rivers’. Rivers occur when your mind translates the white spaces between the words into wavy lines that run down the length of the page.

Alan, adult with SSS & SID from USA

“It brings back memories of when i was very young and i tried to describe 1 of my sensory problems visual (scotopic sensitivity) My adopted mother took me to a hospital for a eye check up but the doctors could not fined any thing wrong. My mother did not believe me and told me that i was just making it up, and stop acting like a retard other wise i will be lockup in the local mental ward.  so I never again tried to let her know about any of my other sensory problems. :-(”

John, Aspie with dyslexia from UK

“[Irlen lenses] have done a world of good for me – while wearing them the pain in my eyes is gone, headaches I’ve had all my life are gone and the muscle spasms in my neck which no doctor or therapist has ever been able to help are gone.”

“As a child I mentioned to my eye doctor about the visual static I see and he thought I was nuts, told my mother I was imagining things because he couldn’t find anything wrong with my eyes… so I never mentioned it again to anyone for many years.”

Wendi, Aspie from USA

“My problems with forms are related to my light sensitivity.  I can’t read black print on white paper unless I am wearing Irlen lenses.  Without the Irlen lenses the words swim too much and I can’t remember what I just read.  With the lenses, forms are still difficult, but understandable.”

– Miriam, adult with SSS & SID from USA

* “Strain or fatigue from computer use.”

“I also have a lot of trouble reading large amounts of text on the computer. My fix for that is something called Natural Reader, which will read the text aloud to me.  Between black letters on white and the light of the computer screen, I’m screwed.  Also all the colors.

Alan, adult with SSS & SID from USA

My comment: Eyestrain from reading online is rather common, whether Neuro-Typical or SSS, due to getting so mesmerised by the screen that one forgets to blink often enough. Possibly also because the screen is a light source. A flickering light source. However, having SSS may make it extra difficult.

* “Sensory Overload caused by bright lights, florescent lights, and sunlight.” “Reads in dim light.”

“I hate [fluorescent lights] because they flicker and it makes me feel like I’m going to have a seizure. Not that I’ve ever HAD one, but that’s my reaction. It was also the cause of many panic attacks at stores, before I realized it was the lighting.”

Terry, psychotherapist with ADHD & SID from USA

“I hate them. They flicker and irritate. One more thing that bothers me all the time. In school it was impossible to take a test if I was placed under a fluorescent tube. They flickered so much that I could hardly see the paper, much less what was written on it. They are incredibly distracting. I always sat way back by the window because then the lights ‘cancel out’ each other and there were no FL tubes at the back.”

– Paula, adult with Tourette and ADHD from Sweden

“Florescent lights don’t seem to be a problem with the lenses on!”

Wendi, Aspie from USA

My comment: Light sensitivity is common and natural among highly sensitive individuals – especially to fluorescent light, which is a substandard light that can be very disruptive due to flicker, noise, unnatural colour, brightness, poor quality and spectral distribution etc. Sensitive and autistic individuals have been found to react stronger than others to flicker from fluorescent light. Newer tubes and compact fluorescent lamps with high-frequency ballasts don’t flicker, but may still be irritating to some for other reasons.

Some may still be helped by Irlen lenses, but that doesn’t mean it will work on everyone, as it depends on why one reacted to the bright or unnatural light in the first place. Extreme photosensitivity that starts in adulthood can be a sign of illness or other imbalance, side-effect of medication etc. In other cases, a personal preference for lower luminance levels it is just a natural variation.

* “Misperceptions can cause difficulties with sustained attention, eye contact, gross and small motor coordination, ability to interpret facial expressions, and poor social skills.”

My comment: Some of these things may have other reasons than visual processing difficulties. However, it won’t hurt to get a Scotopic Sensitivity evaluation just to make sure. Some problems seem to be very easily alleviated with Irlen lenses.


Irlen website

Scotopic Sensitivity Wikipedia

Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome – Sight2000

Free Online Color Filter for people with Scotopic Sensitivity



  1. Ian said,

    Well I was 39 before I herd about this spent most my life wasting away with emotional issues, hated traveling to new places, looking at hills was hard where the sky was light above the hills, or looking outside at night when it’s dark and the lights on inside sent my brain into spastic mode. Now 95 percent better the lenses makes me calm, and my Christian faith is growing because I can focus

  2. chelsea said,

    i am 29 and i have been using irlen lenses since i was 18 . when i was 18 the glasses where blue and now they look like shades but they have 4 different colours in them. i am a hairdresser and had troubles seeing a 45 degree angel and bad depth perception when driveing. i am also dyslexic, i have been using Irlen lenses and it helps me see a 45 degree angle and it makes thing clear when i read. all so helps correct my depth persention when driving.:)

    • Ing said,

      Glad to hear it. Thanks for adding another inside perspective!

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  4. Patch said,

    My scopic sensitivity is changable, Is this something others have? as in some days its far worse than other days.
    I developed it around 2 years ago over the course of a few months (with many other symptoms)
    The other difference for me is that its not just colour overlays that stabilise text, clear glass or clear plastic sheets work fine, again this seems to be different to most people???

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    this site are in fact remarkable for people experience, well,
    keep up the nice work fellows.

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