Did you know that by the average of statistics one in 12 boys and 1 in 200 girls is colour blind? This could mean that your child is quite possibly having difficulty at this very moment with school work that uses colour to give information or instructions.
If you didn’t know, it’s not surprising. Colour vision deficiency (CVD) is a hidden disability and some children can struggle for years at school if a parent or teacher has not spotted there is a problem.
You might be shocked to learn that children are no longer screened for CVD at school (phased out long ago to save money) and that teachers don’t get any training on colour blindness despite, statistically speaking, there being at least one colour blind child in every UK classroom.
But don’t optometrists automatically screen for CVD?
The Association of Optometrists’ (AOP) August 2018 #ABSee Campaign (https://www.aop.org.uk/advice-and-support/for-patients/a-b-see-campaign/about) encourages parents to take their children for regular eye tests and quotes some interesting facts
- a quarter (24%) of school age children haven't been taken for a sight test and one in 10 (10%) 16-year-olds still have unchecked vision; and
- more than half (52%) of parents wrongly believe that every child has a full sight test at primary school
yet ignores an important piece of information. Colour Blind Awareness has an ongoing survey of UK pupils across different demographics and school types which confirms the AoP statements. However, it also shows that although by Year 7 three quarters of children have had an eye test, 80% of children have never had a colour vision test. This means most colour blind students will have spent the whole of their primary schooling with no support.
It also means that optometrists aren’t testing children’s colour vision as a matter of routine. In fact, it’s not unusual for the study to find children wearing prescription glasses who have CVD but were not aware of it. So, if you are planning to take your child for an eye test you should make a point of requesting a colour vision test at the same time. Although a colour vision test should be free of charge, but rather than expecting your optometrist to undertake a CVD test in isolation do expect your optometrist to insist upon a full eye test for your child in addition.
What is CVD?
We see colour through three specific types of cone cells in our eyes. One type absorbs red light, the second green light and the third blue. With inherited colour vision deficiency (CVD) one of these cone type doesn’t function normally. Most cases of CVD arise from a defect in the red or green cones – commonly known as red/green colour blindness – but colour blindness can affect many other colour combinations (as shown in the images), so the common belief that colour blind people only confuse reds with greens is actually just a myth.
How might colour blindness affect your child’s everyday life?
Although children with CVD lead perfectly normal lives (which is why the condition often goes undiagnosed), colour blindness can put them at a distinct disadvantage – especially at school. For example, a child with CVD will have difficulty participating in group activities that require colour recognition or when reading words highlighted in different colours.
With proper support children can learn coping techniques, but it’s important for parents to realise that colour blind people of all ages tend to hide their problems. Equally, due to their colour blindness, they may not always know whether they can or can’t see something.
Therefore, parents need to be particularly alert to picking up the signs of colour blindness. It’s easy to think that your child is coping well with CVD because children learn to identify many colours based on the colour that they’ve been told something is. This is not the same, however, as being able to see the same colour as everyone else, which means it’s important to stay vigilant and be aware of potential problems in different environments.
If in doubt, take action
Inherited colour blindness passes down the mother’s side of the family. So, if any uncles, great uncles, grandfathers or cousins have CVD, there is a strong possibility your son will have it too. (The probability is significantly less in the case of daughters.) These relatives can be a great support for you and your child, sharing their experience of CVD and passing on advice.
You can also help your child to hone their coping techniques by spotting signs that they may need extra help. Teachers can also play a key role in supporting your child so make sure you tell the school/nursery about your child’s diagnosis as soon as possible and refer them to the further information below.
A child with CVD is likely to need more time than others to process information that uses colour, because they will be searching for other (non-colour) clues. There are other key signs to watch out for, at home and at school, that indicate your child may need extra support. Different types of support may be needed at different ages.
For example, depending upon their age they may
- Use inappropriate colours in drawing or painting – e.g. purple leaves on trees, brown grass, red dog or when completing worksheets, drawings and diagrams e.g. purple rivers
- Be reluctant to play matching, counting or sorting games with coloured pieces
- Have a low attention span when colouring in homework sheets
- Struggle to understand some information on whiteboards/in textbooks/online homework software/coloured web pages
- In PE/sport be confused about who is in their team when coloured bibs or equipment e.g. training cones is used
- Be unsure if fruit is ripe, especially bananas
- Have trouble playing some computer games
- Find it difficult to tell when their tablet is fully charged because the different coloured LEDs all appear the same
- Struggle to correctly interpret maps, colour pie-charts and science experiment results
Ways to help
- Label pencil crayons/felt tips/paints etc. with the name of their colour
- Find ways to add extra information e.g. for pieces in a matching game write out colour names or use capital letters, or for younger children you could use a symbol such as a frog for ‘green’ or a banana for ‘yellow’.
Communication is key and helping your child to feel confident about recognising and speaking about their colour blindness is a major step towards minimising any disadvantages it causes so encourage your child
- Encourage your child to tell their teacher or coach if they are having difficulties e.g. if they can’t tell coloured bibs apart, so that other colours that they can see, such as blue and yellow, can be used instead.
- Feel happy to explain about CVD and ask their friends for help when needed
- Sit in good natural light whenever possible when working (but avoid bright sunlight)
- Use accessible Apps/software for people with colour blindness e.g. Chrome extension/iOS accessibility settings
Encourage teachers/coaches to:
- Use secondary indicators, in addition to colour e.g. for graphs and charts add text or patterns
- Audit worksheets, textbooks, websites and other resources/equipment for potential problems
- Avoid relying on colour alone to assess understanding
- Regularly ask your child, out of the earshot of other students, if they are experiencing difficulties that may be related to their condition – encourage them to voice any concerns
Further information and resources
For more information and resources visit www.colourblindawareness.org, which includes downloadable information, classroom resources and links to other articles and videos plus an online shop. Teachers can visit www.colourblindawareness.org/teachers/resources for a fully interactive Resource Guide.
This article was written by Kathryn Albany-Ward, Founder/CEO, Colour Blind Awareness and published 10/09/2018.