Integrated Classroom Solutions: Learning and Color Blindness

Color blindness is a condition that hinders a child's ability to see colors. Also known as color vision deficiency, it is a type of eye defect that affects both boys and girls, although it is significantly more common in boys. In fact, roughly ten percent of males have some degree of color blindness while the percentage of girls that suffer from this type of defect is approximately half of one percent. In most cases involving children, the condition is hereditary and it is passed from mothers to their sons. Changes in a child's ability to perceive colors can, however, also be a result of certain medical conditions or even medications.

When a child is colorblind, he or she may have difficulty telling the difference between colors such as green, yellow, orange and red. In some rare instances, a child may view colors only in various shades of gray and can make out black and white. Regardless of what degree of color blindness a child has, it can cause difficulties that last a lifetime, particularly when it comes to his or her ability to learn. When dealing with children that have a color vision deficiency, early detection is important as is the understanding that children have no control over how they see. By understanding this, teachers and parents can take the steps necessary to reduce the impact that this has on learning.

What is it?

Color blindness is an eye condition in which a person is unable to distinguish certain colors. Although the name would imply that the person cannot see any colors at all, that is only true for some people and it is rare. To best understand what causes color blindness there must be some knowledge about the eyes and what helps people to see colors and light. There are two types of cells in the eyes that help with the absorption and detection of light. These cells are known as rods and cones and they are photoreceptors. It is the cones that help people to distinguish colors, and the rods that help distinguish between items that are light, bright and dark.

There are three kinds of cones that each sense a different color of light. Depending on the cone it can sense red, blue or green light and sends information about that light to the brain. When one or more of these cones is not working properly or is missing, color blindness occurs. Children who are color blind cannot see the full spectrum of colors as well as children who are non-colorblind. Instead they are able to see only a certain range of colors. The colors that the child is able to see will depend on which cones are not functioning or are missing. Most often a child will be missing either the green or the red cones, which will make it difficult for them to distinguish these colors in objects. Less frequently, a child may have difficulty with seeing yellow and blue colors. The degree of this defect can range from mild in some children to more severe in others.

Color Blindness and Learning

Imagine a child sitting in a classroom, unable to complete the assignment that the teacher has given the class. The child's failure to complete the assignment correctly is not a result of his or her inability to understand what is being asked or a lack of desire to do it. Because the assignment involves certain colors, such as red or green, the student is unable to complete the work because they can't tell the difference between the colors on the page. At another time, words are written on a green chalkboard or in a book using colors that, in the eyes of the student, appear to fade into one another or that are indistinguishable. Because of embarrassment or confusion the child does not explain why these assignments are not completed and receives bad grades in the class.

For children that are color blind, this is often a daily occurrence, particularly if their condition has gone undiagnosed. When it comes to education, children are often taught in a visually stimulating way. Many times this involves the use of colors, especially with younger age groups. Colors are used to enhance workbooks, presentations and maps. Colors are also used for other learning tools such as counting beads. Some learning assignments may require students to color match or identify a certain colored object, which depending on the colors may be impossible to see for students with a color vision deficiency. When they are unable to do so, this may cause the child to be mislabeled if the school determines that the child has a learning disability or that he or she is lazy and not putting in the necessary effort to learn. As a result this can negatively affect the child's confidence in his or her ability to learn, and it may also affect behavior. This can have a negative effect on the child's future education and last into adulthood.

To prevent this from occurring, parents should take measures to ensure that their children are seeing properly. To do this they will want to take their child for an eye examination before starting school. These examinations are performed by ophthalmologists who will not only test the child's visual acuity, but will also test for color blindness. The most common method of determining whether a child is color blind is by using pseudoisochromatic color testing plates. These plates are a collection of colored dots that hold a hidden number in the center. This test is called the Ishihara color vision test. Children who are color blind are unable to make out the numbers within the dots

Once a child has been diagnosed with a color vision deficiency, teachers will need to make adjustments in how they instruct the child. This includes the type of board, chalk or marker that is used during class. Teachers may label certain items, such as crayons, for ease of identification. When reading from books or handing out print-outs, teachers should confirm that there is enough contrast for the child to make out the words clearly or they should make black and white copies for the student.