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 demand.
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 inHong 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 inSouthern 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 inAustralia, who was head of the station on which their version of the news show 60 Minutes aired.
The producers of 60 Minutes inAustraliaselected a dyslexic boy and had his reading skills tested atSydneyUniversityand then flew the boy and his mother toCalifornia. They filmed him being tested and the immediate changes in his reading. Shortly thereafter, they filmed the child being retested inAustraliaat 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 toNew Zealandand on to theUnited 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 toAustraliato train people in my technology so they could do testing in their own countries rather than having people fly toCaliforniato be tested.
By the late 1980s, I had left my faculty position at the University and opened up my own business inLong Beach,Californiato meet the demand of people asking for the filters. Then, on Mother’s Day in 1988, 60 Minutes here in theUnited Statesdid 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 intoSouthern 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 calledReadingby 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 inAustraliaand then onNew Zealand,Great Britain, and finally in theUSAthat 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 Revolution.
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 lenses.
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