The Effect of Colours on the Mood & Behaviour of Children with Autism
Colour is one of the very first concepts we learn, and we use colour to convey emotion, messages, and meaning. Recent studies on how individuals perceive colour and the related sensory responses show that some individuals may be more sensitive to colour. This is because some people have increased sensory responses, stronger visual processing abilities, and differentiated cognitive pathways when it comes to colour perception.
Typically, these might include individuals with ADHD or Autism. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may show unusual sensory processing and perception as suggested by anecdotal evidence from parents, caretakers, teachers of persons with ASD and persons with autism themselves suggests that children with this disorder may perceive colour quite differently as compared to neurotypical children.
How do children with autism respond to different colours?
Responses to colour are both physiological and psychological. Studies decoding the physiological effects of colours have shown changes in sensory sensitivity, blood pressure, heart rate and brain development. Psychological impacts include changes in levels of aggression, length, and quality of attention span and the ability to communicate effectively.
Researchers have revealed that children with autism spectrum disorder have anomalies in their eye structure. The rod and cone cells experience changes due to chemical imbalances and neural deficits. Studies show that 85% of the children in this spectrum perceive colours more intensely in comparison to children displaying normal development.
In a study where 29 boys (age 4-17) with autism and 38 age-matched neurotypical boys were studied regarding their preference among six colours: red, pink, yellow, brown, green, and blue, in clinical settings. The results showed that boys with autism were significantly less likely than the other group of boys to prefer bright yellow and more likely than boys to prefer earthy tones like green and brown colours. This may be caused by the hyper-sensation experienced by children with ASD, due to which boys with this disorder may perceive yellow as being sensory-overloading.
Identifying Colour Preferences
Each child will have their own colour preferences, and in some cases, their choices will be very strongly felt and expressed. This can lead to distress if colour preferences are not acknowledged and respected. To identify colour preferences in individuals who are pre-verbal or struggle with communication, we can try laying out some clothing in different colours and see which ones they choose to try on. Or assemble a bowl of pretty, tactile coloured beads or bright crayons and let them pick out the ones they like.
The Use of Colour in Different Settings
When designing the immediate environment of children with autism, the effect of colours should be kept in mind to ensure an optimal state of arousal and stimulation. Dull colours with whitish or greyish undertones have a calming effect on children in this spectrum. Light pastel pink has often been chosen as the favorite colour for children with autism in some tests conducted. Cool colours such as blue and green also have a soothing effect.
It is recommended that primary and bright colours be used only for toys or play objects in their rooms. Even a slight change made in the child’s room, for instance, changing the intensity or brightness of colour may have a negative effect. Although colours like orange, yellow, and red would feel warm to a normally developing child, red could lead to tantrums and even pain associated with certain parts of the body, while white could feel excessively bright and tiring on the eyes of a child on the spectrum; and being aware of the usage implications of colours allows parents and professionals rearrange the living or learning space according to what is most suitable for the child.