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Could Color Blindness Explain Your Child’s School Report?

Boy coloring a map.

Teresa Short / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Color blindness is common but underdiagnosed.
  • If color blindness is undiagnosed it could lead to a misdiagnosis of learning or behavioral concerns.
  • A new book, "The Curious Eye," makes screening for colorblindness available to parents who would like to screen their children at home.

As the school year wraps up, report cards are making their way to your inbox. If you're surprised at the contents, don’t call the tutor just yet. Color blindness may be the cause. Color blindness is common but, when undiagnosed, can lead to a child being labeled with behavioral or learning difficulties.  

Kids that are color blind often go undiagnosed because they don't know anything is wrong. They see the way they always have. Up until now, screening tools were hard to come by outside of optician or ophthalmology clinics. A new storybook for children, dubbed "The Curious Eye," is aiming to change this by incorporating traditional screening tools into a story for children that all parents can access.

Although it cannot offer a formal diagnosis, "The Curious Eye" offers parents a fun and engaging way to review their child's vision in the early years. By addressing colorblindness when children are young, it can improve their chance of classroom success.

What Is Color Blindness? 

Color blindness, officially known as color vision deficiency (CVD), is when children see shades of color differently from those with normal vision. They can still see color but they may not be able to distinguish between reds and greens or blues and yellows as easily as those without CVD.

The most common form of CVD (red-green) is much more common in males, affecting about one in 12. It affects only about one in 200 females. When you consider these numbers, most average-sized classrooms will likely have a case of CVD, whether they know it or not.

How Does CVD Affect Learning and Behavior?

Consulting ophthalmologist Rick Whitehead, MD, explains that CVD itself does not affect learning and behavior. "It is important to emphasize that CVD is not associated with learning disabilities," he says. "Children with CVD are not more or less likely to actually have a learning disability.”

The difficulties arise when a child is undiagnosed and a teacher perceives their responses in the classroom as learning or behavioral concerns. 

Dr. Rick Whitehead, MD

It is important to emphasize that CVD is not associated with learning disabilities.

— Dr. Rick Whitehead, MD

“Students can be labeled as having learning or behavioral issues because a teacher is not aware that a student has CVD," Dr. Whitehead says. "For example, a student might color something 'wrong' or struggle in identifying labels on a graph or a map. They might also answer incorrectly if asked about the color of an object. Some teachers might interpret this as rowdy behavior.”

Why Is CVD So Hard to Diagnose?

CVD is not so much difficult to diagnose, but it is rarely screened for in the average doctors' office or in schools. Screening means that children are tested before they show any signs of CVD. If screening was initiated more often, kids with CVD could obtain a diagnosis earlier, and avoid a misdiagnosis of learning or behavioral difficulties.

The original tool to screen for CVD is called the Ishihara test and is challenging to access. Kate Maldjian, Art Supervisor for Klick Health, says the traditional Ishihara doesn’t work well for kids because it is limited to ophthalmologists’ offices and is very clinical in nature. Additionally, the use of numerals in the Ishihara test makes it impractical for young children to use.

Bhavin Shah, a Behavioral Optometrist in London, U.K., specializes in children's vision-related learning and reading challenges. According to Dr. Shah, other CVD screening tests are available, such as the City University Test (TCU) or the 100 Hue test. But, he agrees that the traditional Ishihara is best used once children are school-aged and know their numerals.

"Once kids get into school, they will learn their numbers so will be able to take the normal Ishihara," says Dr. Shah.

Despite these screening tests being available, they aren't very interesting for kids and often need to be interpreted by a professional. For this reason "The Curious Eye" was developed. Klick Health's creative team joined forces with ophthalmologists to incorporate the fundamentals of the Ishihara into a fun and engaging screening tool for kids. This interactive 24-page children’s storybook serves as a screening tool for parents, teachers, and health professionals. 

"It's a good way to identify those kids who may have a difficulty and can then be referred to a professional for further investigation," Dr. Shah adds.

"The Curious Eye" CVD Test Book

"The Curious Eye" is a search-and-find style storybook that encourages kids to find images on each page. Many of the images are easy for young children to discover, while some are deliberately hidden among Ishihara-style illustrations.

The Ishihara-inspired drawings are designed with an abundance of colorful dots combined to form an animal shape. This shape is then surrounded by dots of an opposing color. If a child has CVD, they will likely be unable to see some of those animal shapes among the dots. 

Dr. Shah points out that the Ishihara images are very different in style and shape from the easy-to-find images. Therefore, it's best if parents read this book with their child to ask leading questions about animals that may be hiding.

For parents and teachers, the guide in the back of the book indicates which animals will be hidden to a child with CVD. There is also information for parents about accessing professional input if they feel their child may have CVD.

Bhavin Shah, Behavioral Optometrist

It's a good way to identify those kids that may have a difficulty who can then be referred to a professional for further investigation.

— Bhavin Shah, Behavioral Optometrist

The rhyming story is suitable for a first-grade reading level, but kids of all ages may find it entertaining and fun. Kristine Brown, copy supervisor with Klick Health, explains why this age group was their focus. “We [have] a specific focus on young children as early diagnosis is crucial [because] color is an important learning and development tool during a child’s formative years,” she notes.

Dr. Shah agrees: "It's essential to identify kids with CVD as early as possible because so much learning is visual and color-coded. For example, maps may have symbols that have the same shape but different colors, if there are no visual cues then they can be easy to become identified wrongly. A child must be able to understand their own abilities (and possible limitations) when it comes to their visual and color perception."

Currently, a limited number of print books have been released but there are plans to publish widely soon. In the meantime, a free PDF e-book is available for free at thecuriouseye.org.

If you download the e-book, creators recommend you do not print the PDF to ensure color accuracy. For the e-version, check that your screen settings are "standard." That means you might want to turn off or minimize your blue light filter (also known as the "night light" filter) on your screen while you read the book.

What Should I Do If My Child Has CVD? 

Remember that results from any screening tool, including this new book, are not the same as a formal diagnosis from an eye health professional.

“If a child cannot see the images in 'The Curious Eye,' this should be validated with a formal eye exam," explains Dr. Whitehead. "During the visit, your doctor will discuss the details of your child's color vision.”

If your child does have CVD, awareness is the key to managing the condition. Dr. Whitehead says that glasses are not needed nor recommended for this condition. Make sure teachers know that your child has CVD so they can make necessary accommodations in the classroom.

There is no reason that children with CVD cannot enjoy a normal and successful life. “If your child or student has CVD, encourage them to pursue their dreams,” concludes Dr. Whitehead. “With a few exceptions, most careers are able to be performed by people with CVD.”

What This Means For You

Color vision deficiency must be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist or optician. If your child does have CVD, awareness is the key to managing the condition.


For those children experiencing learning or behavior problems not attributed to color blindness or vision problems, be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor. Your doctor can refer you to a child behavior expert for an evaluation, if necessary.

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  1. Children’s Eye Foundation of AAPOS. The curious eye. Published May 2021.

  2. MedlinePlus. Color vision deficiency. Updated August 18, 2020.