Color clash: What to do if you suspect your son is color blind

By Rebecca Long Pyper

If today meant another mismatched outfit for your son, don’t yell at him yet.

More kids — especially boys — than you might expect have a hard time making that rainbow connection.

 According to kidshealth.org, one of every 12 boys is probably at least slightly colorblind. Color blindness is more common in boys, and it’s hereditary, passing through the mother’s genes.

 Color blindness is a manifestation of “how the brain interprets things,” said Dr. Jay Borgholthaus, an optometrist with Summit Eyecare. “Genetically it’s made it so (the brain) doesn’t interpret it the correct way.”

Being colorblind doesn’t mean life is lived in black and white. Instead, it’s a sliding scale; those with worst-case color blindness might mix up almost every color, while those who have a mild case of color deficiency could have difficulty differentiating between shades closer to the same spectral color — think pinks, lavenders, and purples. For instance, Borgholthaus has two brothers with color deficiency where greens look brown.

Color blindness can pose practical challenges, but it doesn’t have to be a major stumbling block for life. According to kidshealth.org, “Being color blind can make it tricky to match your shirt and pants, but it’s not a serious problem. People who are colorblind can do normal stuff, even drive. Most color-blind people can’t tell the difference between red or green, but they can learn to respond to the way the traffic signal lights up — the red light is generally on top and green is on the bottom.”

 How to figure it out

If your child has color deficiency or blindness, usually there will be signs — “certain colors just don’t make sense,” Borgholthaus said. That can manifest itself in mismatched outfits, using the wrong-color towel or pictures drawn with a purple sky and orange grass.

If you have a hunch your kid might be colorblind, a visit to the optometrist can resolve doubts. Doctors like Borgholthaus test using Ishihara Plates, made up of a circle full of small colored dots, plus a number printed in different-colored dots in the center. People who see the full spectrum of color will recognize the number right away, while those with color blindness or deficiency will not. A quick online search will turn up samples of Ishihara plates if you’d like to check things out at home.

One reason to have an optometrist diagnose your child is that seeing colors differently — say, one eye sees red more vibrantly than the other — can be a symptom of other, more concerning health conditions, Borgholthaus said.

Also, knowing your child has a color deficiency can lead to more empathy. “It just helps for the parents’ understanding, so they can understand that, no, (their kids) don’t see very well,” Borgholthaus said. And maybe that’s the reason for all those clashing clothes.

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