How we changed young Lotti’s life
- Credit: Archant
An Ealife story about a common but little-known condition that affects our ability to read, proved life changing for one reader’s granddaughter. Sheena Grant reports
All through her school life Lotti Christie hated reading and would do anything to avoid it - even being disruptive in class.
Reading out loud was her pet hate, especially after one teacher told her: “Lotti, you read like a small child.”
But tests for dyslexia proved negative and Lotti, from Gislingham, near Eye, got on with her education as best she could, even managing to get the GCSE and A Level grades she needed to secure a place studying sports coaching at Loughborough despite her reading difficulties.
Right up until this summer she thought it was something she would just have to put up with.
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Then her grandmother, Aileen Kelly, happened to read an Ealife feature about Haverhill mother Caroline Elsden and her 10-year-old son Aidan, who suffers from visual stress, also known as Meares-Irlen syndrome.
For those affected, reading text appears to jump around, blur or distort. Some sufferers can also get headaches or migraines.
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Experts believe some degree of visual stress may affect up to 20% of the population and around 5% would benefit from using tinted plastic overlays or glasses, which calm the visual stress and allow more fluent reading. The condition was first identified in the 1980s but 30 years on it is still not widely known about, meaning many children’s education and school lives could be unnecessarily blighted.
Aileen passed the Ealife article to her daughter and suggested that may be it was what was causing Lotti’s reading problems.
An assessment with a Stowmarket optometrist confirmed the diagnosis and Lotti, 20, now has tinted glasses, which have transformed her life.
“I have always struggled with reading and at school got through by doing the bare minimum,” she says.
“It caused me to get into a lot of trouble in classes because I would do anything to avoid reading.
“I remember being removed from class on one occasion after being told I was reading like a baby.
“That destroyed my confidence and made me more determined than ever to avoid reading.
“To me, it looked like the words were moving, coming in an out of the page almost as if they were in 3D.
“Sometimes it looks a bit like a river running down the page. Reading took me longer and sometimes I would have to read things 10 times to make sense of it but because I was still getting decent grades at school, no-one really picked up on it.”
As her A Levels approached, however, Lotti was increasingly worried about how she would cope with the exams and went to see a teacher, who recommended a test for dyslexia, which proved negative.
“After that I just thought it was normal,” she says.
The problems persisted but after so many years of getting by, she just carried on as before - until that Ealife feature in August.
“After I heard about the article I did a bit of research and booked in for an assessment,” says Lotti.
“I was given two tint overlays initially and went back a month later to get tinted glasses, which I have now had for a few weeks.
“When I first read with the overlays I couldn’t believe the difference it made.
The words were not moving all over the place. I could not stop smiling. I wear my glasses all the time, unless I’m doing sport. They not only help me with reading but also have stopped headaches I used to get when I was near fluorescent lights.”
Although she’s delighted to finally have a diagnosis and such a simple solution for her reading problems Lotti is also annoyed when she thinks of all the years she struggled at school.
“I am happy with where I am now and what I have achieved, compared to what quite a lot of people thought I would,” she says. “But I am annoyed to think I could have had the lenses so much earlier if only we had known about Meares-Irlen syndrome.
“I don’t think there is nearly enough awareness out there. So many people - including teachers - don’t seem to have heard of it and people like me are just being labelled as troubled students. I was lucky in that I managed to get decent grades. There will be others out there who are less fortunate.”
Lotti’s grandmother, Aileen, summed it up in a thank you letter she penned to Ealife.
“Teachers need to be aware,” she wrote. “Parents should not allow their children to be discarded if they have an ongoing problem with reading.”
As for Lotti, who wants to be a ski instructor, she’s hoping her new lenses will help her achieve her absolute best as she approaches the end of her studies and the next phase of her life.