Specialty lenses help Brighton School students with dyslexia
By ellyn couvillion
Advocate staff writer
December 26, 2012
“Is it going to solve all our children’s problems with dyslexia at our school? Absolutely not. It’s a tool, and we look for any tool (that can help the students).” Kenneth Payne, Brighton School principal
Everyone in the room saw it happen: the company representatives, the observers and the English teacher who found herself in tears when it did.
Brighton School senior Stephen Kober Sr., who has dyslexia, had been fitted with a pair of specially tinted lenses just minutes before and had read a page of words with ease, one he had stumbled over earlier.
“It’s a lot easier to see,” Kober said.
The words, instead of seeming to float or move on the page “stay flat on the page,” he said. “That’s actually pretty neat.”
In mid-November, all 151 students of the Brighton School, reportedly the only K-12 school in the state dedicated solely to instructing children with dyslexia and dyslexia-related learning differences, were screened to see if they could be helped by a new kind of optical lens.
A majority of the students have already received or will be receiving free glasses with the specially tinted lenses, courtesy of ChromaGen Vision LLC.
The company, based in Kennett Square, Pa., has the worldwide rights, outside of the United Kingdom where the lenses were developed, for the aid for dyslexia.
Dyslexia, or developmental reading disorder, is a reading disability that happens when the brain doesn’t “properly recognize and process certain symbols,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
Parents often have to read material to their children of all ages with dyslexia to help them comprehend the literature.
ChromaGen lenses, acting as colored filters, are available through specially trained optometrists or ophthalmologists who use an accompanying patient survey and are FDA-cleared for reading problems and dyslexia as well as for color blindness.
The way it works, said Ted Edwards, the chief executive officer of ChromaGen Vision, who was in Baton Rouge for the screenings at Brighton, is that the lenses are “slowing down the neurological transmissions through your eyes to your brain.”
The symptoms of dyslexia vary widely for each person with the disorder, said Kenny Baxter, vice president of sales for ChromaGen Vision, who screened the Brighton School students.
“Nobody can give you a true answer to what dyslexia is; it’s all over the board,” Baxter said.
“We’ve identified nine ‘word movements’ that these kids have. We have a form (they fill out) and if they get a 2 or better, we have a 100 percent success rate” with the ChromaGen lenses, he said.
For a lower score, there’s still a 35 percent to 50 percent success rate, Baxter said.
“We’ve also identified 12 symptoms associated with word movement” such as migraine headaches, he said.
A score of 8 or more of those physical symptoms meets with a 100 percent success rate, he said.
“At Brighton, we had less than 3 or 4 percent of the kids didn’t go in glasses at all,” Baxter said.
“Maybe 10 to 15 percent got a zero on the word movements (portion of the questionnaire) but then got 2 to 12 on symptoms ... we put them in glasses anyway, to see if they have an abatement of symptoms,” he said.
The remainder of students clearly had scores that indicated they’d benefit from the glasses, he said.
“You never assume that our lenses aren’t going to help,” Baxter said.
“We’ve seen some things here today and yesterday that are an immediate improvement,” said Brighton School Principal Kenneth Payne.
“We hope to see this improvement carry over into student performance throughout the year,” he said.
“We’re glad ChromaGen Vision is offering it to us,” Payne said.
“Is it going to solve all our children’s problems with dyslexia at our school? Absolutely not. It’s a tool, and we look for any tool” that can help the students, he said.
Ninth-grader Cameron Gautreau, 15, at his November screening in the school library, found that the lenses helped him.
His mother, Leslie Gautreau, who was able to be there that day, told the ChromaGen Vision representatives that for her son, reading “has always been such a struggle from what I’ve seen.”
Her son has sometimes used audiobooks to help, she said.
Another student, senior Jonathan Mitchell, 18, said that when he used the ChromaGen lenses the words on the page didn’t seem “all jumbled up.”
“When I put the glasses on, they were spaced out, so I could read them better,” Mitchell said.
ChromaGen Vision came to Brighton School through a series of events that began with a parent of one of its students, a parent who also works in the optical business.
Sheila Crawford manages two optical companies, the Shenandoah Eye Clinic in Baton Rouge and Ascension Optical in Gonzales, which is housed in the Williamson Eye Center there.
She had seen the ChromaGen Vision booth at two annual optical industry trade shows: Vision Expo East in New York in March, and Vision Expo West in Las Vegas in September.
Crawford picked up some of the company’s material and contacted the company for more information.
It was after the second expo she visited that she asked her younger son Nicholas, 16, a junior at Brighton School, to fill out the ChromaGen patient survey she had brought home.
“I was kind of surprised at some of the things he said. I didn’t know the words moved on the page, kind of popped off the page,” Crawford said.
She was “kind of taken aback,” she said, realizing there were things that she, as a parent of a child with dyslexia, didn’t know about the reading disorder.
Crawford went on to speak with the Brighton School principal about the lenses; the board was involved and a dialogue was begun between the school and ChromaGen Vision.
A pilot screening of 10 lower-grade students and 10 upper-grade students was done at Ascension Optical, and the lenses helped most of the students, she said.
Her own son didn’t get a lot of benefit from the lenses, she said.
His symptoms don’t seem to be as severe as those of some other students, and he’s reading on grade level, she said.
He’ll still be getting the new glasses, though, at the recommendation of the ChromaGen staff, with the possibility that they might still help some symptoms, she said.
“We were looking for a school in the U.S. to let us screen for free,” Baxter said.
The company has been offering the lenses in the U.S. for two years, he said.
With the permission of Brighton School students and their parents, the screenings here were filmed for a DVD that the company hopes to send to other similar schools in the country, he said.
The complimentary frames for the glasses were provided by the nonprofit Essilor Vision Foundation of Dallas.
The lenses were donated by ChromaGen Vision and its partner, the wholesale lab Pech Optical in Sioux City, Iowa.
Ordinarily, the exams, frames and lenses — which come in glasses, contact lenses and clip-ons — would cost about $1,000, ChromaGen Chief Executive Officer Edwards said.
To find locations that provide the ChromaGen Vision system, visit the company’s website, http://www.IReadBetterNow.com.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the lenses in 2002. In 2004, the American Optometric Association released a middle-of-the-road statement about the products.
It recommended that people with reading difficulties should get a comprehensive vision exam and encouraged further research on the tinted lenses.
“Colored overlays and tinted lenses are not cures for dyslexia, but may be useful reading aids for some individuals with reading difficulty,” it said at its website, http://www.aoa.org.
The Winter 2011 edition of Perspectives, a publication of the International Dyslexia Association, in an article about “vision efficiency interventions” cites a source saying that “scientific evidence does not support the efficacy of ... special tinted lenses or filters for improving the long-term educational performance in these complex pediatric neurocognitive conditions.”
“We know there are naysayers out there, (but) we’ve had parents tell us they don’t care if we’re FDA-approved” because of the positive academic-related results their children are having, Baxter said.
Dr. Cory Boudreaux, an optometrist with Williamson Eye Center in Gonzales who observed the early pilot screening of 20 Brighton School students, said that for seven or eight students out of each group of 10, there was “an immediate rate of speed increase in their reading.”
He said he’ll be interested in learning if this will also increase the students’ comprehension of the material they read, he said.
When Brighton School senior Stephen Kober filled out the ChromaGen survey in November, he marked “yes” that when he read he had double vision and that the words were blurry or wiggly and that they floated or popped on the page.
He reported that his dyslexia causes the words on a page to appear to move from side to side, and that the white lines between the lines of text appear to move, too.
Not surprisingly, he said that he has physical symptoms as a result of those effects that include headaches and red and watery eyes.
“It frustrates me so much, I get headaches and completely quit,” Kober told ChromaGen representatives.
After Kober read a sheet of words without using the lenses, Baxter held a series of different colored lenses before each of Kober’s eyes, to learn which Kober preferred, the way an optometrist does for an eyeglass prescription, finally arriving at the two lenses that helped Kober read the most clearly. Then, he put them into a test eyeglasses frame, and Kober read the words without a hitch.
He went from reading 32 words in a minute to 68.
Kober’s English teacher, Karen Cannella, who was at the screening, found tears coming to her eyes.
“He’s had a really hard time ... I think this will make a huge difference for him,” she said.
“What’s frustrating is, he’s so intelligent,” Cannella said.
“We’re reading “Hamlet” soon, and I think I just found my Hamlet,” she said.