What is colour blindness?
Colour blindness, sometimes called colour vision deficiency, means you find it difficult to tell the difference between certain colours.
When people hear the term colour blindness, they may imagine not being able to tell the difference between any colours or not being able to perceive them at all. The truth is that most colour deficiencies only make it difficult to distinguish between a few colours or shades.
Mild colour blindness may not seem like a big deal, but for children, visual information is a large part of how they learn and grow. Colour allows them to identify, classify and experience the world.
If they have colour blindness, understanding the condition and having it diagnosed will allow you to support their education and development so they can enjoy their childhood without added difficulties.
How colour blindness is diagnosed and managed
Colour blindness can be diagnosed during a comprehensive eye exam or through an online test. Routine eye tests do not usually include a colour blindness assessment, but most optometrists will perform one on request.
Medical professionals are your best resource for getting an accurate diagnosis and for advice about managing the condition. While online tests may be helpful, they may not provide as much accuracy or any additional advice and support.
Colour blindness is usually diagnosed using either the Ishihara colour test or colour arrangement tests, which we’ll talk about in more detail below. These tests may be performed as part of a comprehensive eye exam, so optometrists will often look at vision and eye health as well.
How to deal with a colour blindness diagnosis
Children usually adapt well to living with colour blindness, but the diagnosis can cause uncertainty, anxiety and a loss of confidence. Not knowing the best way to manage the condition can also lead to parents and caregivers experiencing similar emotions.
Creating a supportive environment for both caregivers and children can go a long way to helping them live with the condition.
As a parent, your first steps should be to learn more about colour blindness and inform your child’s school or day care about the diagnosis. Educational institutions should be well-equipped to modify learning tools and provide resources for colour-blind children. Learning more about the condition will often get rid of some of those initial anxieties – colour blindness can be frustrating but for the most part won’t stop children from participating in educational or leisure activities.
The next step is to create a supportive framework, both to help your child manage their condition emotionally and to allow them to find new ways to tackle challenging activities. Resources and support networks are available that can help you and your child find a solution to everyday problems and manage colour blindness in a way that suits their unique needs.
Colour blindness explained: Causes and Types
Colour deficiencies are typically genetic, meaning people are most often born colour blind. The condition is much more common in men than in women, due to the way colour deficiencies are passed down through certain chromosomes.
We perceive colours through cone cells in our retinas – due to genetic mutations, some people are born with receptors that are less capable of processing certain colours and shades. This causes what we call colour blindness.
Many other conditions can also cause colour blindness. This includes:
- Retinal detachment
- Eye or head trauma
- Parkinson's disease
Other causes include certain medications, chemicals and ageing.
Types of colour deficiencies can be divided between those that make it difficult to distinguish between red and green and those that make it difficult to distinguish between yellow and blue.
Red-green colour deficiencies include Deuteranomaly, Protanomaly, Protanopia and Deuteranopia. In the first two cases, some shades of green and red can still be distinguished while in the second two, no colour difference is perceived.
Blue-yellow colour deficiencies Tritanomaly and Tritanopia. The first makes it hard to distinguish between various colours including blue and yellow, while the second makes it impossible and causes certain colours to appear less brilliant.
In very rare cases, you may be completely unable to perceive colour. This is usually called Monochromacy.
Signs of Colour Blindness in Children
Having your child’s eyes tested for colour blindness is the only certain way to get a diagnosis. However, if your child hasn’t been tested yet or you think they have developed the condition, there are a few signs to look for.
The most obvious one is difficulty distinguishing between colours, especially similar shades. This could occur with any colour and may express itself as children calling colours by the wrong names or using the wrong colour when painting (for example, painting the sky purple).
Academic difficulties or disinterest in colour-based activities or tasks. A great deal of what children learn is visual and colour-coded, especially when they’re young. Colour blindness may make a child frustrated with certain activities and avoid pastimes like colouring.
Some children will also examine or smell food before eating it. With limited access to visual information, they may start to use their other senses to compensate.
Colour Blindness Testing for Children
There are two main tests used to diagnose colour blindness in children.
The most common is called the Ishihara colour test. This involves reading numbers from images made up of coloured circles. To successfully read the number, you need to be able to distinguish between different colours.
Colour Arrangement tests involve putting coloured images into categories or arranging them by shade. There are different ways of categorising the colours and this can vary from test to test.
Both of these tests can be done online, but it is still wise to have your child’s eyes tested by an optometrist. They can provide a more accurate diagnosis and offer personalised advice about how to manage the condition.
Coping with Colour Blindness: Support and Solutions
Everybody experiences colour blindness differently. For children, creating a network of support and finding individual solutions for their case is the best way to help them manage their condition.
The good news is that support networks and resources exist that make it easier for colour-blind people to navigate everything from education and employment to leisure and travel.
For many, colour blindness may not have a large impact on daily life, but for children, even small frustrations or limitations can make a whole school subject difficult or a task insurmountable. Creating an open and supportive environment that promotes knowledge about colour blindness helps children to understand their condition and to avoid thinking about it in a negative light.
Building a Supportive Community for Children's Vision Health
One step that has proven helpful for people with colour blindness is joining a community that shares their experience. These communities are an effective resource that can provide information, support and advice.
Whether the community is at school, online or elsewhere they provide an opportunity for people to connect and learn more about their condition. Colour blindness is quite common and local groups of parents, caregivers and educators often help each other.
Online forums and charities may provide more formal support in the form of events, training and products designed to help people who support children with colour blindness.
Whatever your situation, reaching out for additional support can help make the experience better for you and your child.
Eyecare for Children: Beyond Colour Blindness
For children with colour blindness to enjoy healthy eyes, it is helpful to think beyond their condition. Comprehensive eye care means considering the optimal way to keep their eyesight in good shape and minimising the risk of eye conditions.
Eye examinations on a regular basis are a vital part of children’s eye care. Early diagnosis of vision problems like myopia and astigmatism can allow them to be corrected and managed more effectively, limiting their impact on children’s development and education.
Taking a proactive approach to eye health also makes a big difference. Children’s eyes are affected by everything from their diet and the amount of exercise they get to how long they spend outdoors or using screens. Understanding the impact of this on their vision and eye health can help you create a lifestyle that gives them the best chance of keeping their eyes healthy.
Colour deficiencies form one part of children’s eye health. Learning more about it and how to manage the condition can help you discover how care can improve your child’s quality of life through eye care.
Colour blindness is a condition that presents a unique set of challenges. As a child, these challenges may seem more pronounced or even overwhelming – for a parent or caregiver, understanding the condition and finding an effective way to manage it can help your child learn to live happily with their condition.
In this article, we’ve tried to give an overview of living with and managing colour blindness in children. Learning more about the condition, consulting professionals and paying close attention to your child’s eye care needs can help you find solutions that work for you and your family.