June 25, 2018
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Surprising ways color blindness affects daily life

Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley
By Sarah Smiley
Updated:

We learned Lindell was colorblind when he was 4 years old. I was reading “Go Dog Go,” and he asked, “What is the orange dog doing?” There was no orange dog on the page, so I asked him to point to it. He pointed to a green dog. Suddenly other things started making sense: his trouble dressing, his stubbornness about learning to read, his difficulty with puzzles.

Eventually we learned that Lindell has trouble with green, red, yellow, blue, purple and basically any “off shade” (think turquoise) of basic colors. Neon colors are agony for him. The only color Lindell consistently sees correctly is what you and I see as orange, though often he thinks green is orange.

Over the years, Lindell’s colorblindness hasn’t caused him too much trouble, but when it does it’s always surprising. Seven years later, I still forget about Lindell’s limitations, and I’m taken aback when he reminds me of just how much you and I rely on something as simple as knowing that green is green.

If you’ve ever wondered how color blindness affects someone’s life, here are ways Lindell has taught us that color matters.

Games

Although I learned Lindell was colorblind while reading a book, I should have figured it out when we played “I Spy” with him. You will never win a game of “I Spy” against a colorblind person. If Lindell says, “I spy something red,” you can name every red thing in the room, and when you give up, he’ll point to the dark green pillow on the couch.

Other childhood games like Simon proved difficult, too. One time, Lindell was doing Simon in the car, and his older brother yelled at him to turn off the sound.

“Then I won’t know which button to push,” Lindell said.

“Yes, you will. Just look at the color,” his brother’s voice trailed off. “Oops.”

Lindell had learned to play Simon by sound, not color.

Video games and some board games are a problem, too. Recently we learned Lindell can’t see the color pieces in Trivial Pursuit when he tried for a blue pie three times in a row. “I have no idea what color this is, but I’m winning a lot of it,” he said.

Sports

When coaches refer to the “blue team” or “green team,” Lindell is usually not listening. It will never match up to what he sees.

At a basketball tournament this past weekend, Lindell’s team’s opponents were wearing a darker shade of green than them, so it was light green versus dark green. I knew this might be a problem for him, but when I asked after the game, Lindell said, “Honestly, I thought the other team was wearing red.”

Scoreboards can be difficult, too. If the background is black and the lights are red, Lindell cannot see it. So he relies on teammates to tell him the score, fouls, outs and so forth.

When we play putt-putt, Lindell cannot use an orange ball if the carpet is green. Green balls look orange to him and are camouflaged against the ground. As my colorblind older brother says, “I can hit an orange golf ball exactly once. Then it’s lost in the grass.”

School

As you can imagine, school can be difficult, especially art class, math (for the graphs, charts, and counting blocks) and social studies (color-coded maps — oy!). While most kids use illustrations to gain contextual clues for reading, these are often useless for colorblind kids. Lindell once thumbed through a whole book about a mother bear and her cubs and never saw them in the illustrations because they blended into the background.

And then there are behavior charts, which are often color-coded in some way (think: “You’re on red today”). When Lindell was little and we’d ask if he got in trouble at school, he’d say, “How am I supposed to know? The whole behavior chart looks green to me.”

I’m sure chemistry class will be fun.

Dressing

If you think dressing a toddler is not fun, try dressing a colorblind one who insists he wants to wear the orange shirt, which is actually green, so no one knows what he’s talking about. Lindell has always worn mismatched socks because he gave up on that years ago. A regular question in the morning is, “Mom, what color do I have on?”

Eating

Eating isn’t really a problem for Lindell, but his observations about food continue to be surprising for us. For instance, Lindell thinks peanut butter is green. We learned this when he said the only chicken he likes is the “green kind.” He was referring to chicken tenders that are breaded. Basically all tan or orange foods look green to him. Yummy.

Driving

At 11 years old, this isn’t a problem yet, but I already see how it will be. To you and me, the traffic lights are red, yellow and green. To Lindell, they are green, white, green. I’ll let you know when he’s on the road and behind the wheel.

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