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Spotting the Early Symptoms of Colour Vision Deficiency in Children

The main symptoms of colour blindness in children are difficulty in distinguishing colours and making mistakes when identifying colours. However, many colour blind children can learn to identify colours correctly even if they don’t see them in the same way as people with normal colour vision do. For example, children quickly learn that a fire engine is ‘red’ and when they see other items which look the same colour as a fire engine they will identify that as ‘red’ too. Don’t be taken in by this!

boy in a ball pit

Normal Vision

boy in a ball pit - deuteranopia


If you think your child might be colour blind the main clues to look out for are:-

  • using the wrong colours when drawing/painting an object – e.g. purple leaves on trees, green faces
  • low attention span when colouring in worksheets
  • denial of colour issues
  • problems in identifying red or green colour pencils or any colour pencil with red or green in its composition. (e.g. distinguishing purple from blue, pink from grey, red from brown etc.)
  • identification of colours may be made worse by low level lights, working with small areas of colour and colours of the same hue, conversely they may find colours are easier to distinguish between in good natural daylight
  • smelling food before eating
  • sensitivity to bright lights and some colour combinations
  • reading issues with coloured pages or worksheets produced with colour on colour
  • children may complain that their eyes or head hurt, if looking at something red on a green background, or vice versa
  • good at ‘seeing through’ camouflage

Colour blind children may be reluctant to colour in pictures or want to play counting, sorting or other games with coloured blocks, beads, dice etc. or they may love to do all of these activities but sometimes appear confused when taking part. Easter egg hunts can be quite a challenge for colour blind children because the colour of the eggs can ‘disappear’ against background colours!

Easter eggs

Normal Vision

Easter eggs - Deuteranopia


If you think your child might be colour blind don’t waste any time finding out if they are. You should immediately be suspicious if there are any colour blind men on the mother’s side of the family – these could be uncles, great uncles, cousins and grandfathers. By age 5 children with normal colour vision will be able to identify all of the groups of colours in a couple of seconds.

To give yourself a basic indication of whether there might be a problem with your child’s colour vision, get a sheet of white paper and a basic set of colouring pencils – at least 12 different colours but including green, red, brown, orange, blue, purple and grey. Use mid range shades, not too pale or too dark– and shade an area of about 2cm by 2cm of each colour onto the paper. Make sure that the colours are in a random order and you don’t have all the reds or greens together, but do place red, green and brown adjacent to each other.

Take the paper and your child to an area with good natural light (but not bright light, artificial light or strong sunlight) and make up a fun game which involves asking your child to identify all of the colours on the sheet. Do not show them each colour individually, they must be able to see all of the colours at the same time.

If your child shows signs that they are not sure whether a colour is red, green, brown, purple, blue or grey, there is a reasonable chance that they are red/green colour blind. Before you start ask them which colours are the easiest for them to identify. You should expect a red/green colour blind child to be able to identify bright blue and yellow (they can identify these colours by brightness and shade). Make sure you include these colours so that they do not get the impression that they aren’t clever enough for the game.

  • Praise your child for identifying colours correctly
  • Make sure your child knows there are no right and wrong answers
  • Ensure that there are no other people around, especially siblings.

If you are suspicious that your child might be colour blind, whatever you do, DO NOT follow up this exercise by questioning them about colours of items around the house. If you do this they may clam up and this can affect their confidence.

This method is not a formal diagnosis and you should always check with an optometrist for confirmation as it is really important for colour blind children to be formally diagnosed so that they can access proper support at school. If your child is diagnosed don’t forget to tell the school, in writing, and ask for the information to be retained on their school record under the SEN category (SPecial Educational Need).

Where to get a diagnosis
What to do next