Erica Dibello-Hitta

Imagine Life If You Couldn’t Read

Returning to school amounts to an act of courage for many adult learners.  As an adult education teacher I’m no longer surprised when students tell me that they never finished elementary school, or that they were discouraged from getting an education because, as a woman, they were just going to get married and have children.   I’ve heard many stories, but the most touching are those of students who have admitted that they cannot read.  I’ve learned that, sometimes, it’s not about the mechanics of learning to read.

Every semester I share with the class that I’m affected by glare, especially the glare of fluorescent lights on a white page, and that I have trouble concentrating on my driving if someone is talking to me.  If I’m driving to a new destination with my children in the car, I have to ask them not to talk to me.  Otherwise, we’re sure to get lost.  I only learned a few years ago that those are symptoms of Irlen Syndrome.  I’m lucky that I’m low on the spectrum.

People who have Irlen Syndrome have trouble reading.  They may see words move on a page and can’t understand how others learned to read when the text is moving.  Reading a text may cause them to get headaches or stomachaches.  The most common symptom, one that I experience, is that they get sleepy when they have to read something they are not interested in.  Interestingly, this does not occur when one reads for pleasure.  As an avid reader, I can attest to that.

People with severe Irlen Syndrome suffer in silence, sometimes all their lives, because they don’t know that what they experience, is not what the rest of us experiences as we read.  Every year I’ve had at least one student who learns that they, too, have Irlen Sydrome.  The good news is that using a simple colored plastic sheet (colored overlays) can often dramatically improve the reading experience.

If you’d like more information, please watch this video narrated by a teen  or go to the Irlen website:


Erica Dibello-Hitta teaches ESL 4 class and GED Prep in Spanish at Montgomery Adult School.  Her students never cease to amaze her!