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Adversity honour for Caoimhín

Caoimhín Mungovan, who won a certificate of recognition in the Yes I Can Awards held in conjunction with the  Irlen Institute in California. He is pictured with mother Claire and Fiona de Buitléir. Photograph by John KellyAN Ennis pupil has become one of only 14 young people from around the world to be recognised with an award presented to outstanding individuals who have excelled despite adversities.
The Irlen Institute’s Yes I Can award programme is presented to individuals with Irlen Syndrome, a condition that affects perception and which can cause reading difficulties, concentration problems and behaviour issues.
This week, 11-year-old Caoimhín Mungovan, a pupil at Ennis National School, was presented with an honourable mention award from the Californian-based institute.
Irlen Syndrome affects the way the brain processes visual information and research has found it can be corrected with the use of coloured overlays and special glasses. Caoimhín was introduced to the treatment by teacher at Ennis National School and Irlen screener, Fiona de Buitléir.
After being screened for the condition, he was examined by Irlen diagnostician Aislinn Ryan from Waterford, who diagnosed which colour lenses, which have to be sent from America, would be most helpful for him.
Fiona explained, “Different colours work for each person and it has to be fine-tuned to the perfect tint and hue.” Caoimhín has been wearing the specially tinted glasses for the past three years and his family have been amazed by the results.
Caoimhín’s mother, Claire, said, “I hadn’t noticed he had a problem with how he sees things but looking back on it now we can see that he did. He has no peripheral vision left and there is some danger associated with the condition, for instance, he could not see steps.
“The glasses have made such a huge difference to him, his confidence has improved, his work in school, everything. I first saw the huge, huge difference in him when he won the ‘write a book’ competition in school and we’re absolutely delighted that he has been presented with this award.”
Fiona nominated Caoimhín for the award, saying she felt that he was a “good ambassador” for those with the condition.
“Things have improved significantly for him since he got the glasses. He is quite sociable, more confident and he is really focusing with this schoolwork as the filters in his glasses allow him to focus on his books. I’m really proud of his progress,” she said.
Fiona, who has the condition herself and wears lenses to offset it, was granted a research bursary from the Teaching Council of Ireland to investigate the potential of colour in dealing with Irlen Syndrome.
Up to 5% of the general population – and over 40% of those with dyslexia or autistic spectrum difficulties – experience unpleasant visual symptoms that they might not even be aware of.
This can lead to sore eyes, headaches and nausea as well as affecting judgement of distances, leading to apparent clumsiness.
The condition has also been linked to learning and behavioural difficulties.
Fiona has just completed her research and said her findings showed that Irlen Syndrome is present here to the same degree as in other Western societies and possibly even a little more.
“One interesting and unexpected finding was that the electronic whiteboard causes distress for people with this perceptual difficulty. It is too bright for them, some cannot read what is on it at all and have to guess and it gives others an immediate headache.
“This is very significant finding as electronic whiteboards are being installed in all classrooms at the moment instead of blackboards,” she said.
“This was an unexpected finding for me. What needs to be done is that once the whiteboard is turned on, that the background colour is changed to a nude colour. But if kids don’t speak up about how they are seeing things differently then people won’t realise it. The condition is not very well known so the more awareness we can create, the more people can be helped.”
Fiona is continuing to work as an Irlen Syndrome ­screener and Aislinn Ryan will be in Ennis this Friday to see more children with the condition.
“The condition can be alleviated but it’s not that well known so if somebody wants to check if they have it they can go to www.irlen.ie and do a self-test.
“Then they can go to a screener, which is what I do, and I could refer them to Aislinn,” explained Fiona.

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