Is my child colour blind?

What to do when your child can’t distinguish the colours that you see and talk about.

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When Daniell Ng was in nursery school, he would use green to fill the faces and skin of people on his colouring sheets.

Recalls Daniell’s mother, homemaker Chuah Phei Sei, 40, “Initially, I thought he was just being mischievous, colouring their faces green for fun! Even when he described a green-coloured bus as orangey-yellow, I didn’t think much of it. I thought that it was because he was not familiar with colours.”

It was only later, during a trial class at a brain development centre, that she realised that her son wasn’t able to follow a sample card to arrange certain colour cubes. An eye doctor subsequently diagnosed Daniell with colour vision deficiency.

Colour blindness or colour vision deficiency (CVD) is the inability or reduced ability to see colours, or to perceive obvious differences between mixed colours. In Singapore, this condition affects 5.3 per cent of boys and 0.2 per cent of girls.

“Despite having some difficulty differentiating colours, individuals with CVD have good eyesight. Very few people are completely colour blind (achromatopsia), which means they have no colour perception at all. They see the world as white, black and grey. This is associated with severe visual impairment,” explains Dr Grace Wu, a consultant in the Paediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus Department, Singapore National Eye Centre & KK Eye Centre, KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital.

“Colour blindness or colour vision deficiency (CVD) is the inability or reduced ability to see colours, or to perceive obvious differences between mixed colours... Very few people are completely colour blind.”


Types of Colour Blindness

According to Dr Wu, most colour blindness is hereditary in nature. It is caused by a defect in the gene containing instructions to make photo pigments in the cones for seeing colours.

* The most common form of colour blindness in children is Red–Green due to loss or abnormal function of red cones photo pigments or green cones photo pigments in the eyes. If the red cone photo pigments are abnormal, red, orange, yellow will appear greener and less bright. If the red photo pigments are absent, red will appear black. Likewise, if the green cone photo pigments are abnormal, it may be difficult to tell blue from violet ― the most common form of red green colour blindness. This condition is very mild and does not interfere with daily living.

* Blue-Yellow colour blindness is rarer. The blue pigments are missing or have limited functions. Blue may appear green and yellow looks more like violet to these affected individuals.

* Complete colour blindness, in which the child sees no colours at all, is extremely rare and associated with severe visual impairment.

In Daniell’s case, he is unable to differentiate certain shades of blue-purple and green-pink-yellow.


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Is my child colour-blind?

Symptoms to look out for if your little one has difficulty in distinguishing colours or makes mistakes when identifying colours include:

A) Uses the wrong colours for an object, such as purple leaves on trees, purple skies, yellow/green/grey faces, red leaves, brown grass, especially uses dark colours inappropriately.

B) Has low attention span when doing colouring sheets.

C) Denies that they have colour issues.

D) Has problems identifying red or green colour pencils or any colour pencil that includes red or green in its composition. (eg purple, brown)

E) Difficulty identifying colour in low-level light, small areas of colour and colours of the same hue.

F) Smells food before eating.

G) Has excellent sense of smell.

H) Has excellent night vision.

I) Is sensitive to bright lights.

J) Has issues reading from coloured pages or ork sheets produced with colour.

K) May complain that their eyes or head hurt if they look at something red on a green background, or vice versa.

L) May not like to play games that require colours to be identified.

“Preschool children might demonstrate disruptive behaviour, and lack attention in an early learning environment that’s rich in colour. They do not understand their problems and are too frightened to speak up for fear of being marked down. This not only undermines their confidence, but also affects their foundational learning as these children have to try harder to remember and learn. Some children may also be holding back in sports and games which involve identifying colours,” explains Dr Wu.

If you suspect that your child may be colour blind, bring them to an optometrist to be screened immediately. Or bring junior to an ophthalmologist for a full eye check-up, which will not only identify the cause, but also give a detailed analysis about their particular type of colour blindness.

Request that your child’s school teacher assign a classmate to help your child when they use coloured diagrams or pictures.

Ways to help colour-blind children cope

As parents whose most important goal is to have a happy and healthy child, Chuah notes that she were concerned about the impact on his self-confidence.

We broke the news to him gently and explained the condition to him very matter-of-factly ― we told him he has a special way of seeing colours and that it was okay to be different. We assured him that it would not affect much of his daily life, and that we would be there with him all the way,” she adds.

Indeed, if a child is constantly told that he is using the wrong colour, ridiculed for selecting mismatched clothing or selecting game pieces with the wrong colour his self-esteem might be adversely impacted, and he may become timid and withdrawn.

To help their child cope with colour blindness, parents should show them lots of love, support and create awareness among his family members, school and peers. Let your child know that they can approach and confide in you or any family member if they have any doubts or fears, and not to feel embarrassed about it. Also, remind siblings never to laugh at them about it.

Once a child is diagnosed with colour blindness, here are ways parents can help their child cope:

* Inform all the people working with your child (including their school) that he or she cannot tell the difference between certain colours.
* Request that the teacher uses strong contrasts on the board and on computer screens. Do not use red and green or pastel colours to highlight teaching pointss
* Ask your child’s school teacher assign a classmate to help your child when they use coloured diagrams or pictures.
* For very young children, it is important to teach them the “correct “colours for common objects at an early stage.
* Help your child dress by choosing matching articles of clothing for them.
* Lighting is important. Bright, low, inside or natural light can affect colour recognition. The brighter the light, the easier it is to recognise colour. Seat colour-blind children in good natural light, away from any glare.
* When giving instructions to your child, refrain from using colour-based descriptions which are. Instead of saying “Wait for me by the blue car”, use ‘Wait for me by the car that’s parked beside the lamp post”.
* Give your child colour pencils and paints marked with the colour of the pencil, but do note that certain names, like “vermillion”, do not provide colour clues.
* Check computer settings, web pages and computer-based teaching aids to ensure that your offspring can pick out all the relevant information.
* Ensure that self-esteem and bullying issues are dealt with immediately ― look out for siblings and other children who tease colour blind children because they use incorrect colours.

Photos: iStock

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