Parents have been asking me some colorful questions recently about color blindness. Well, let me see if I can share my views on this particular topic.
Color blindness does not mean a person is blind. It is a deficiency in color vision that may range from a slight difficulty in telling different shades of color to not being able to identify any color at all. This is due to a problem with certain cells in your retina or the back of your eye needed to see color. Most children who are color blind can still note differences in pure primary colors, just not the different shades.
Who typically has it, and when does it show up?
Eight percent of males and less than 1% of females have color blindness, which usually means having difficulty in distinguishing reds and greens. It is usually present at birth, although the problem can worsen as well with aging and is often an inherited trait.
How is color blindness diagnosed?
You may note that your child, once they learn their colors, has a hard time telling the difference between red, green, brown and gray, or they may have difficulty learning their colors. They may color with unusual choices of crayon — for example, Santa may be in a brown, rather than red, suit. It may not be noticed until your child starts school and the teacher notes problems with colors.
If such a problem is noticed, your child’s health care professional may have a test to confirm this problem in their office by asking your child to identify a series of circles filled with colored dots forming a number against a background of other colored dots. People who are color blind cannot see some of the numbers that are easily seen by those not color blind.
If the problem is identified, teachers should be made aware and should try to label colors in pictures with words or symbols that can help cue a child with color recognition.
Is there a cure?
Unfortunately there is not a cure for color blindness unless it occurs due to a reversible cause such as a side effect of a medication, which is extremely rare. Children who are diagnosed with color blindness need to be reassured that this will not affect their ability to learn, or to do well in school and with their adult careers, so that it does not hamper their self-esteem.
Hopefully, tips like these will allow you to see more clearly when it comes to knowing more about colorblindness and your child.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5.