What is Photosensitivity? How does it affect students?
Owner: Janene Sproul BSc, DipEd, MEd(res)
Areas of expertise:
Education, equity in education access, photosensitivity and epilepsy
Photosensitivity, visual photosensitivity and photophobia are all terms used to describe medical conditions where there is some sort of negative reaction to light entering the eye and the interpretation of it by the brain.
For young students we explain it as either having a ‘super electric brain’ or ‘exceptional eyeballs’. Super electric brains become over excited by particular visual input. Over excited brains can cause different reactions in different children, but it is preferable to avoid or minimize this occurrence. Exceptional eyeballs have the same ingredients as unexceptional eyeballs, just work slightly differently, react slightly differently to certain types of light and occasionally need some support. Whatever the cause, managing the symptoms in class can diminish stress and discomfort.
For older students the understanding that diminishing the visual stimulus into the eyes is crucial to management of digital media settings and duration of screen use. The lower level visual stimulus, the less brain activity in the visual centres. Although 'less activity' may seem counter-productive for academic studies, it is the specific region of the brain that we are focusing on that makes the difference. Decreasing the activity in the visual centres allows more attention to be allocated to interpretive and analytical centres.
Digital media screens of particular luminance or contrast ratio, or presentations using certain saturated red or moving striped patterns can trigger adverse reactions in some students. Making access to digital media use in schools equitable for all students is important, as is increasing awareness in educators of the potential difficulties for students.
Strategies for working with these types of brains and eyeballs have been developed for educators using medical research. The strategies apply recommendations by medical professionals to the modern classroom. The book Photosensitivity: A Seat up the Back near the Window, please is a companion to this website is now available digitally. To download, go to the ‘Handbook’ page on this site. (Forms and tables from the book are also available in PDF versions, go to ‘Forms’).