Norwich woman, 24, calls for school testing for rare syndrome

Bethan Gibby, from Norwich

Bethan Gibby, from Norwich, is raising awareness of Irlen Syndrome, which she was diagnosed with as a teenager. - Credit: Bethan Gibby

A Norwich woman living with an often undiagnosed condition says vision specialists should be testing pupils in all schools.

Bethan Gibby was diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome after she was tested as a teenager while at City College Norwich, having spent her childhood experiencing issues with balance, tiredness, headaches and struggling to read.

Irlen syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder affecting the brain's ability to process visual information, which can vary in severity and is not currently identified by standard educational or medical tests.

Hoping to raise awareness around the undiagnosed condition, Miss Gibby, now 24, said she was lucky to be diagnosed as Irlen screeners in education settings are rare.

She has recently been given new filter lenses which have enabled her to see in 3D for the first time.

She said: "I wasn’t seeing the world in the right way, I wasn’t perceiving things correctly.

"I avoided reading as I just couldn’t do it, the words were moving, rippled and twirled around.

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"I also had balance problems, issues with escalators and steps and depth perception. If someone was wearing clothes with patterns, or there was a building with patterns on, then it really disoriented me, and I felt dizzy.

"I believe that if there were screeners in every school, then those that are affected would be able to perform better with less stress and less errors. Their academic performance and achievement may also improve."

There are two stages of assessment for the condition - the first is to see the severity of an individual's symptoms, followed by a filter assessment.

This uses coloured lenses from a box of different densities and colours to filter out the wavelengths of light the brain can't process. The arrival of a new filter lens has helped Miss Gibby, who lives in Norwich, see in 3D for the first time.

She said: "People’s faces before looked like peeling wallpaper and very flat.

"If it’s a bright day I can cope now I have my filters it doesn’t matter if it’s a bright day. I can cope with fluorescent lights now and it’s not a problem - it used to make me feel very tired, but not anymore. 

"Trees are looking beautiful, I can see the leaves really clearly and the difference in colour in some of the trees, leaves and flowers. I can see they’re not flat. I think these are the best filters I have had so far."

She added many sufferers would not have received an assessment during the pandemic and young people being home schooled would have really struggled without the support they needed.