HomeHealth TopicChildren's Health

What Are the Signs of Color Blindness in Children?

Brian Clista, MDPatricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH
Published on April 14, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • People with color blindness have trouble seeing some or all colors.  

  • People with color blindness are usually born with it. But certain eye conditions can lead to color blindness, too. 

  • There’s no “cure” for colorblindness. But tools and techniques can allow your child to navigate situations where it’s important to tell the difference between colors. 

Doctor checking a young girl's vision. She is smiling cutely.
Digital Vision./Photodisc via Getty Images

If your toddler or preschooler is having trouble naming colors, you might be wondering if your child has color blindness. The fact is, as their speech develops, many kids take a long time to learn their colors. So naming colors isn’t a good test of whether your child can see colors. So how can you know if they actually have color blindness? Let’s take a look at what signs might mean your child has color blindness.

What are the common types of color blindness in children?

There are three main types of color vision deficiency (color blindness): 

  1. Red-green: People with red-green color blindness have trouble telling the difference between red and green. Some people may not be able to tell the difference between red or green at all, while others can still make out some shades. Red-green color blindness is the most common type of color vision deficiency.

  2. Blue-yellow: People with blue-yellow color blindness have trouble telling the difference between blue and green and between yellow and red. In some forms of blue-yellow color blindness, people have trouble telling the difference between purples and reds. Colors may also look less bright to people with this type of color vision deficiency.

  3. Complete: People with complete color blindness, or achromatopsia, can’t see colors at all. They only see shades of gray. People may also have other vision issues like low vision, amblyopia, and nystagmus. This type of color blindness is very uncommon.

How common is color blindness in children?

Color blindness happens more often than you might think. People can be born with color blindness or develop it over time.

If a child is born with color blindness, that means they inherited the condition. So, not surprisingly, color blindness runs in families. About 1 out of every 12 male children have a form of color blindness. But only 1 out of every 200 female children are born with color blindness. That’s because of the way the genes for this condition pass from generation to generation. 

People can also develop color blindness because of medical conditions like:

What are signs of possible color blindness in children?

Kids start to understand color concepts as early as 18 months of age. They might start to name colors between the ages of 2 and 3.  But many kids can’t name colors well until they are 4 or 5 years old. 

So how can you tell that your child has trouble seeing color? Symptoms of color blindness in young children include:

  • Using the wrong colors: Your kid may use different colors when coloring. They might color leaves brown or the sky purple, for example. 

  • Having trouble noticing shades of colors: Your child may not be able to tell the difference between shades of red, green, yellow, or blue in books or in their crayon box.

  • Having trouble with tasks: They might have trouble matching their clothes or objects by color. You might notice trouble doing color-coded assignments in preschool, especially if the tasks require using reds, greens, browns, blues, and purples.

  • Having trouble recognizing print: Children with certain types of color blindness can have trouble seeing print, depending on the color of the print and the background. 

How can you tell if a child has trouble seeing color?

So if you think your child has trouble seeing color, what can you do? Research shows that children can get a diagnosis of color blindness as early as 4 years old.  

Your child’s healthcare provider or an eye doctor will test for color blindness using: 

  • Color plates (Ishihara tests): This is an easy test that uses different colored dots to see if your child can tell the difference between colors and shades of colors. Your child will look at a circle filled with different colored dots. In the center, there will be a differently colored number, letter, or shape. If your child can’t see the image, that’s a sign of color blindness. Color plates come in many colors to check for different types of color blindness. 

  • Hue test: This test uses small blocks in various shades of different colors. Your child sorts the colors so all the shades of the same color are grouped together. Then the provider will ask your child to arrange the colors in a certain order. 

  • Anomaloscope test: For this test, your child will look through an eyepiece on the anomaloscope. They will see two lights with different levels of brightness. Using a knob, they will adjust the lights so they are the same brightness level. 

How do you treat color blindness in children?

There’s no cure for inherited color blindness. But you can help your child learn to help navigate color blindness by:

  • Labeling crayons, markers, or colored pencils

  • Learning the colors of common objects — knowing these colors can serve as a point of reference

  • Making sure reading materials are printed with black ink on white paper

  Other technologies that can help people with color blindness include:

  • Special contacts or glasses: These can help people with certain types of color blindness differentiate colors.

  • Phone apps: Phone apps for color blindness let you take a picture, and then the app tells you what colors are in the photo.     

If adults develop color blindness due to an eye condition, providers can treat the underlying condition. Treatment might help relieve the color blindness.   

The bottom line

Color blindness is a condition where someone can’t see certain colors. There are several types of color blindness, and red-green color blindness is the most common. Most people who have color blindness are born with it, and males inherit it more often. While there’s no cure for color blindness, kids can learn techniques to better manage the condition. New technologies like glasses and phone apps can also help people who can’t see color.

References

Colour Blind Awareness. (n.d.). Early symptoms.

Dang, S. (2014). Testing children for color blindness. American Academy of Ophthalmology.

View All References (5)

Davidoff, J. et al. (1993) The colour cognition of children. Cognition.

National Eye Institute. (2019). Color blindness.

National Eye Institute. (2019). Testing for color blindness.

National Eye Institute. (2019). Types of color blindness.

National Health Service. (2019). Colour vision deficiency (colour blindness).

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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