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Does a Child See What You See?

Joey Knight was puzzled. What did his parents mean by color? Green shirt, red shirt, brown shirt, gray shirt. Huh? They all looked pretty much the same to him. He figured his parents were just smarter than he was.

Approximately 1:12 males and 1:200 females has some degree of color vision deficiency or colorblindness.

Pre-school books, puzzles, games and other toys are colored intensely enough that most children can tell the colors apart, although they may not look the same to the child with CVD as they do to most people. However, two percent of the male population (and a rare female) cannot see red or green at all, and they confuse other colors as well. These children may not catch on easily to pre-school games that are based on color. They may also resist playing with puzzles that rely as much on color as on shape. They may not be as enthralled with crayons as are most children. They'd just as soon draw with a fat pencil. They may not see optical illusions that are easy for other children to see. These children who are severely affected by CVD see all the reds, oranges, yellows and greens as one color and all the blues, violets and purples as another.

Children who are mildly or moderately affected with CVD may have difficulty matching light shades of colors, especially red (or pink) and green. They often confuse these colors with other colors, such as gray or tan. Those who see red faintly confuse blue and purple because they don't recognize the red in purple.

From everyday conversation children learn that "grass is green," "the sky is blue," etc. To help children with CVD learn color names (but not always recognize the color itself), parents can label objects in their homes, like a picture of a "Bear" for a brown couch or a "Fire Engine" for red drapes, or a "Sun" for a yellow wall (although most children with CVD recognize yellow). Parents can also teach their youngsters the first letter of color names printed on crayons so the children can identify them more easily. They can also encourage pre-school teachers to reinforce this teaching-learning process in the classroom.

It's important -- for children with and without CVD -- not to point out "mistakes" or to chide children for not naming colors "correctly." Some children -- and adults -- simply don't see as many colors as other people do. Also, it's better for parents to say, "I like that green shirt" rather than ask, "What color is your shirt?"

A mother with a preschooler who had a moderate CVD said her husband had become extremely frustrated with their son because he had tried to teach the boy color names. No wonder the boy couldn't learn color names. Some colors, especially lighter shades, looked identical to him. Another mother with a son with CVD said she thought her son had a language problem. "I thought he wasn't understanding the words," she said, when he couldn't tell color names.

CVD is known as a sex-linked recessive disorder. It is carried on the X chromosome. A male has an X and a Y chromosome, and a female has two X chromosomes. When a male inherits an affected X, he will have CVD because, unlike a female, he doesn't have an unaffected X to dominate the affected X. Because a male always passes his Y chromosome to his sons, he does not pass CVD to his sons; he does, however, pass his X to his daughters who are then "carriers." A carrier typically doesn't show symptoms of CVD, but has a 50 percent chance of passing her affected X on to each of her children. The females who inherit the X will, like their mothers, be carriers; the males who inherit the affected X will, like their maternal grandfathers, have CVD.

If you have a concern about your child's color vision, consult an eye care specialist. Specialists generally have color vision tests for pre-school children. Your local school nurse can usually test children as young as four easily and quickly using special books that utilize an affected person's confusion of red and green with gray.

Best of all, a child need not realize that he "failed" the test. He can simply be told how well he did. Parents can speak with the examiner beforehand to be sure this happens. "Your eyes are fine. You just don't see as many colors as most people," is one explanation. The child can be told he's like his (maternal) Grandpa or perhaps a (maternal) uncle. Usually, the type of the CVD as well as its degree -- whether it's mild, moderate or severe -- runs in families. The child observes that the older family member has coped well with his CVD. There's no need in the pre-school years to delve into occupations that require accurate color vision.

The child with a severe CVD might realize that in some instances he can actually "see" things that others have difficulty seeing. For instance, some animals are camouflaged -- chameleons, for instance. Their color changes according to their surroundings. A child with typical color vision might not see a chameleon as readily as a child with severely reduced color vision. A child with severe CVD is not confused by color and pays more attention to form, shape and movement.

A delightful book that explores feelings associated with colors is Mary Le Duc's Hailstones and Halibut Bones. This book can be enjoyed by parents and children regardless of their color vision.

About the Author
Arlene Evans is a former school nurse who failed to find literature for children or teens on color vision deficiency. She wrote Seeing Color: It's My Rainbow, Too for children and Color is in the Eye of the Beholder for teens and adults. Both books are for students with and without the disorder. Her Web site is:

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