Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Parenting Pointers: Color Blindness/CVD

Color Blindness: A Mother’s Journey
By Karen Rae Levine

When my son Andrew was four years old, his pre-school teacher told me he was having trouble understanding simple patterns. I was already concerned because he couldn’t always identify colors correctly. Were these signs of a learning disability, or was it something else?
“Do you think he could be colorblind?” I asked.
The teacher’s eyebrows went up. “You know, that could be it.”
A visit to a pediatric optometrist revealed that Andrew was red-green color deficient, or colorblind. “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “It doesn’t matter.”
I was relieved to know that Andrew had a seemingly minor vision problem, and not a learning deficit, but I wasn’t sure it didn’t matter. From my experience with my two older children, colors were an integral part of the early education curriculum.
The most important goal for me, and for any parent I think, is to have a happy, confident child. I wasn’t concerned that Andrew’s vision problem (more accurately called Color Vision Deficiency, or CVD) would be extremely limiting, but I did recognize that it had the potential to do some serious damage to his self-confidence.
How many times already had he been told he was wrong when he chose a color, or completed a pattern, or moved to a space on a game board? To a child, these repeated situations could be disturbing. A colorblind child has no frame of reference to say, “Maybe I can’t see that color,” or “Maybe those are different colors that look the same to me.” A child’s natural reaction would be, “I must not be smart enough to know that.”
The solution was awareness. I told Andrew matter-of-factly that he had a special way of seeing colors. It wasn’t bad; it was just different. I told him that if he was ever confused about colors, he could just say so, and ask for help. I also shared with him that his grandfather was also colorblind.
When Andrew started kindergarten, I spoke to his teacher about some of the ways that Andrew could confuse colors. I was surprised to learn that she, and almost all the other teachers I’ve spoken to since, knew very little about CVD. A veteran teacher told me, “I’ve never had a colorblind child.” About one out in twelve boys and 200 girls has CVD. I thought, “You’ve probably had one every year!”
I was delighted to learn that Andrew spoke up in kindergarten to ask for help with colors. Once, Andrew handed an assignment to the classroom aide, who told him it was the wrong color. He explained that he was colorblind, and shrugged off the mistake.
I was just reaching around to pat myself on the back, when I realized that awareness shouldn’t end with just one child. I approached my local elementary school district and they were very receptive to this “new” information. PTA volunteers, already organized to test incoming students for amblyopia (lazy eye), agreed to also administer a stress-free color vision test consisting of shapes that could be traced with a cotton swab.
I was happy that I could increase awareness in my community, but it still bothered me that as many as 25,000,000 students in the U.S. struggle with CVD. Only twelve states require color vision screening for school children, and even in those cases, there is nothing mandated beyond that. At best, parents are given a form letter containing the cryptic word “colorblind,” and teachers are left completely out of the loop.
While I’m happy to have had a positive impact on the life of my child, my journey as the mother of a colorblind son and advocate for CVD has just begun. It has been a lesson in perseverance and a labor of love. CVD matters! I hope other parents will join the cause and check with their school systems and make them aware of the issue.
Meanwhile, here are a few tips for all parents:

·      It’s a good idea to have your child tested for CVD by the age of four or five.
·      Try to find out if any other members of your family are/were colorblind. Remember, this is an inherited gene.
·      Make sure the color vision test administered by the pediatrician, optometrist, school nurse or PTA volunteer is age-appropriate.
·      If your child has CVD, don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t matter!
·      Learn about and understand your child’s color confusion.
·      Communicate with your child honestly and matter-of-factly.
·      Create a collaborative dialogue with your child’s community of teachers and coaches.
·      Don’t forget that Color Vision Deficiency isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a different view of it!

Karen Rae Levine is the mother of a son with CVD and a long-time advocate for color vision awareness. She is also the author of All About Color Blindness: A Guide to Color Vision Deficiency for Kids (and Grown-ups too). A former aerospace engineer, software manager and graphic designer, she returned to her childhood love of writing and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School in Manhattan. You can find her at www.AllAboutColorBlindness.com and https://www.facebook.com/AllAboutColorBlindness.

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