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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
Lens technology aids dyslexics
By Maggie Taggart
BBC NI education correspondent

Parents whose children have a learning disability will grasp at anything they feel will help their child, and many have spent hundreds of pounds kitting their children out with coloured lens spectacles.

For Carol McKee, the change in her 8-year-old son Leith was instant
For Carol McKee, the change in her 8-year-old son Leith was instant

They look a bit odd, but children and teachers report dramatic changes in learning ability and concentration.

They have even made them better footballers and horse riders.

The therapy has been targeted at children with dyslexia, dyspraxia or autistic spectrum disorders.

It has been known for years that coloured lenses can help children read and write, but new computer software called "Orthoscopics" can make precise changes in the colour tint to match exactly the shade which best suits the child.

As Warrenpoint optician Michael Gilsenan says, "everyone sees through a spectrum of colour, but the particular problems of children with dyslexia for instance, mean their visual problems can be sorted out by using a tint".

For Carol McKee, the change in her eight-year-old son Leith was instant.

"As soon as he put the glasses on, he stood taller, he was able to catch a ball thrown to him, when before he would have missed it," she says.

"His teachers now all say positive things about him, he is learning better and has more confidence. It's been a great year since he got the blue tinted specs."

Michael Gilsenan's opticians is the only place in supplying this sort of coloured glasses
Michael Gilsenan's opticians is the only place in supplying this sort of coloured glasses

Eighteen-year-old Matthew Clarke was sceptical to begin with, and the changes appeared slowly.

"I'm able to type on the computer without looking down and I now concentrate better in class when I'm wearing my tinted glasses. I don't mind wearing them even though people say they make me look like the Beatle, John Lennon."

But Matthew's mother Anne is wary of advising everyone to go to the expense of buying the glasses.

"It's not a miracle cure, and although Matthew is doing well with them, not everyone will be helped by them.

"The whole process of testing and supplying the glasses is pricey, they're not on the National Health Service, so I would be concerned about the cost for families who don't have much money."

Kate O'Hanlon, the English advisor at the Southern Education and Library board has seen children improve with the glasses, but she too says there is no "magic cure" for these type of learning difficulties.

"It's very important parents don't go out on a limb, thinking this is the only thing that will help their child. It has worked for some but there are also other interventions that can help children with problems."

Matthew Clarke was sceptical to begin with
Matthew Clarke was sceptical to begin with

At the moment, Michael Gilsenan's opticians in Warrenpoint is the only place in Northern Ireland supplying this sort of coloured glasses, but he is keen to spread the word and is running a conference to inform parents and professionals of a range of ways in which children's learning can be improved.

It is at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry on Monday 21 May 2007.

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