New study shows that kids can be tested for color blindness as soon as age 4, finds Caucasian boys most likely to be color blind among different ethnicities

Giving 4-year-olds a test at school might seem a tad early, but when the testing is for color blindness, the results may very well help color blind children succeed in class.

Children with color vision deficiency may perform poorly on tests or assignments that employ color-coded materials. If the student and their parents are unaware of the issue, those students may struggle in class, leading teachers to group them in the wrong academic track at school.

"It's not that the child is not smart enough or bright enough, it's that they see the world a little differently," said Rohit Varma, M.D., chairman of the ophthalmology department at the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine and director of the USC Eye Institute.

Dr. Varma and other researchers from the Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease Study Group tested 4,005 California preschool children age 3 to 6 in Los Angeles and Riverside counties for color blindness. The findings, published in the Journal Ophthalmology online in April, suggest that successful color vision deficiency testing can be done starting at age 4. In addition, researchers found that Caucasian boys have the highest prevalence among four major ethnicities, with 1 in 20 testing color blind, and that blindness in boys is lowest in African-Americans.  The study also confirmed that girls have a much lower prevalence of color blindness than boys.

Despite the name, color blindness is not a type of blindness, but an inability to see colors accurately. The most common form of color blindness is genetic and involves a mutation or lack of genes that help the eye see red or green. People with this form of color blindness cannot tell the difference between the two colors.

According to Dr. Varma, children with color blindness can benefit from different kinds of lesson plans or homework to demonstrate their understanding of concepts despite their inability to see colors correctly.

"That needs to start early on because labeling a child as not smart or bright enough is a huge stigma for the child and causes significant anxiety for the parents and family," he added.  Dr. Varma suggests the tests should be performed by pediatric ophthalmologists, as home assessments often yield unreliable results.

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