What is Visual Light Hypersensitivity? How does it affect students?
Visual Light Hypersensitivity (VLH)
Website Administrator: Dr Janene Sproul
BSc, DIpEd, MEd(research), PhD
One of the challenges facing parents or students researching 'eyes hurt with bright light' or 'long use of computers strain eyes' is the range of terms and medical conditions. Photosensitivity, light sensitivity and photophobia are all terms that can apply to skin or sight. Visual light hypersensitivity (VLH) is used to describe the group of medical conditions where there is some sort of negative reaction to light entering the eye and the interpretation of it by the brain. As we use digital media more in the classroom, adjustments to support students with VLH as part of another diagnosis (such as migraine or concussion) is required by the Disability Standards for Education (2005) and more recently encouraged by their Review in 2020 (Australian Government, 2021).
This website was created by Janene in 2014 to meet an identified need as a information hub to provide streamlined access for teachers, parents and students to evidence-based strategies for classroom implementation. It is currently undergoing a makeover following Covid enforced long periods of remote learning and a re-write is planned for the Handbook (late 2021).
Janene continues to teach in both secondary and tertiary settings and will continue to publish inclusive education articles and present at conferences (see News on Homepage). The following excerpt is from the student (upper primary) section of the handbook - to assist in explaining to students with VLH why looking at computers or light can be more challenging to them than their friends.
For young students we explain VLH 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 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 load in the visual centres allows more cognitive load to be allocated to interpretive and analytical centres (Choi et al., 2014).
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 (Sproul et al., 2021)