penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Perception is reality

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As you may have heard, a few days ago someone posted a picture on Tumblr of what appeared to be a gold and white dress. What followed was a hilarious conversation about whether the dress was gold and white or black and blue.

Then the Interwebs imploded.

Granted, perhaps it was to be expected after a long day of people watching and cheering on llamas.

I watched all the hoo-ha on the social media and the snide comments.  Yet at the same time could see how the white could be read as a light blue colour.

Then I realized, this is how my son sees the world every day – with different colours than everyone else.  And if he lets on, people will probably not be kind.

He’s a protanope.  Also known as red-green colour blind.  Based on the testing we have done, he is green weak and it is significant.

After my son was born, I started looking for early signs that he might be colour blind.  My grandfather, brother and cousin were all born with it.  It’s a recessive gene on the X chromosome. I wasn’t sure if I was a carrier, but I knew if I was and had any sons, they would have a fifty percent chance of having the genetic instructions and expressing it.

Even early on, my son showed signs that he saw the world differently.  He seemed to look at pictures with less interest than my daughter had.  He seemed to confuse colours with red or green in them unless they were strong super saturated reds.  By the age of two I was already pretty sure and started to warn his pre-school teachers that there might be an issue.

By the age of three, we had him at the eye doctors. He was going to start school, and I wanted to be sure.

The optometrist humoured me. She pulled out the ishihara test book.  Of course, the book is filled with numbers which my son could not yet read.

“Can you see a number? A figure in the circle?” she asked in that quiet gentle way of all optometrists. “Can you trace a line with your finger?”

We were on the first page, the control page.  He took his finger and slowly traced the number.

The optometrist turned the page.  “What about this one?”

I wanted to be wrong.

My son looked at the page.  He looked at the doctor.  Then he started to point at individual dots on the page.

The optometrist flipped the page, “What about this one?” she said quietly.

She flipped through the whole book.  My son could not see a single image. On any of the pages.

The first day of school, I wrote a long letter to the teachers trying to explain that my son saw the world differently and that he needed help.  I’m not sure they ever really understood. They kept sending home exercises on coloured paper. They sent home colour coded exercises. They seemed surprised at parent teacher interviews when I mentioned it and how their candy coloured room might not look the same to him. They had never considered it before.  I tried to imagine my son trying to explain to them on a daily basis why the purple crayon was orange, and why all his drawings of people had green faces.

There are a few good things that have come out of it.

As my protanopic brother points out, he has excellent pattern recognition.  He also can see things hidden by camouflage – a useful tool to spot bears in the woods while we are at the cottage, or later when he’s older when he plays paint ball. My grandfather found it useful in the infantry.

My optometrist has since bought a special ishihara test with shapes instead of numbers for smaller children.  My second son has used it and is not colour blind. Clearly he won the chromosome lottery. I’m glad that other children will have the benefit of using it too.

I would like to think we have enlightened a few teachers along the way to the reality that not all students will see their classroom the same way.

It has helped me too. Sometimes I even forget – until he says something like “look at the orange coloured thing.” And it is actually green. And I am brought up short. Then I try to see the world through my son’s eyes. It is always a reminder to me that others will have a different world view that I do.

After all, perception is reality.

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Written by pennyinacastle

March 8, 2015 at 3:07 am

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