Accidental Worldwide Business by Helen Irlen

Sometimes a business comes about in an unexpected manner. The key is to
recognize when you have something that people want and follow-up on the demand.
My story is just that. I was pulled into a business that I love by consumer

When I made the move from school psychologist to researcher, in 1980, I never
imagined that it would lead to a worldwide business. My research began with a
group of 35 adults who had been struggling to read for years. Completely
unaware of what I would find, I ended up, after nearly five years, with an
understanding that difficulty reading may stem from a disconnect between the
eyes and the brain. I discovered that for many readers, the problem is neither
visual nor cognitive, but is instead, visual processing, making words and
letters on the printed page appear to be moving, bunching together or swirling
about, not unlike others would see an optical illusion. Ultimately, I
discovered that colors specific to each individual could solve many reading
problems through the use of colored filters and/or lenses. But I never
anticipated what would happen next.

An Australian journalist living in Hong Kong, whose daughter struggled with
dyslexia and avoided reading at all cost, heard about my discovery. He flew
half way around the world to bring her to see me in Southern California. We
tested her and found a color combination, worn as glasses, that helped her see
the words and letters in a stable manner. For the first time, she was reading,
and even enjoying it. Not only was her dad amazed but he took the story of our
reading discovery to his friend in Australia, who was head of the station on
which their version of the news show 60 Minutes aired.

The producers of 60 Minutes in Australia selected a dyslexic boy and had his
reading skills tested at Sydney University and then flew the boy and his mother
to California. They filmed him being tested and the immediate changes in his
reading. Shortly thereafter, they filmed the child being retested in Australia
at the University. The professor who did the testing stated on air that the
only difference that could account for the improvement in his reading was his
colored lenses.

I had no idea of the implications of having my method aired on television. When
the segment aired it became the most talked about 60 Minutes story in the
history of the Australian show. Because of the large response, it then went
sequentially to New Zealand and on to the United Kingdom, where it was picked
up by newspapers and television including a number of TV and radio shows on the
BBC. The general visual processing disorder, which I had named Scotopic
Sensitivity Syndrome, and subsequently renamed Irlen Syndrome, was being
recognized in countries worldwide. So, I took off to Australia to train people
in my technology so they could do testing in their own countries rather than
having people fly to California to be tested.

By the late 1980s, I had left my faculty position at the University and opened
up my own business in Long Beach, California to meet the demand of people
asking for the filters. Then, on Mother’s Day in 1988, 60 Minutes here in the
United States did a segment on what had been termed by the Brits as “the Irlen
Method” generating so many calls that it shut down the phone trunk lines into
Southern California. The show was repeated the next year. I was also asked by a
publisher to write my first of two books on the subject, which I called Reading
by the Colors.

Fast forward two decades later and I sit in the Irlen Institute International
HQ in Southern California, still seeing clients, training screeners, who
identify individual who can benefit from my method, and diagnosticians, who
test and determine the specific color or colors for each individual to be worn
as glasses or contact lenses.

While many businesses work long and hard to generate media attention, it was
media attention first in Australia and then on New Zealand, Great Britain, and
finally in the USA that launched a business that is now in 53 countries with
more than 10,000 screeners worldwide. I now own several laboratories that
produce the colored lenses. Conferences are held in various parts of the world
to extend the technology and discoveries we have made over the years.

I never intended on starting a business, but the demand from those who saw the
results of the Irlen Method spread the word and people began asking for help,
and continue asking today. In the course of helping millions of readers all
over the world with a visual processing disorder, often misdiagnosed as
Dyslexia, we found that Irlen Spectral filters also benefited those with light
sensitivity, persistent headaches and migraines, brain injuries and concussions
as well as symptoms from ADHD, autism and various other disabilities. Again,
most of this research came from people coming to us with such symptoms and
asking for help. I wrote about these symptoms in another book called The Irlen

What I have learned from all of this is that business can be the result of the
old axiom “Give the people what they want.” Of course in order to do so, you’ll
want to already have a product or service that you feel provides a solution to
an existing problem. I strongly believed that the methods we discovered, using
colored filters, could help people. However, I never knew there was such a
widespread demand. I also strongly recommend doing something you enjoy and
hoping the rewards come later. To me, after thirty years in business, the
greatest rewards are not found on the balance sheets or in worldwide sales, but
are found in seeing people make incredible life changing progress with their

Author Bio:

Helen L. Irlen is an internationally recognized educator, researcher,
therapist, scholar, and expert in the area of visual-perceptual problems. She
founded the Irlen Institute in Orange County California and has dedicated her
life’s work to helping people overcome visual-perception disorders. Her
background includes 15 years as a School Psychologist and 30 years as a Child
and Family Therapist, and Educational Therapist. Ms. Irlen is a graduate of
Cornell University

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