Before we dive into how color preference can influence learning ability in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delay, let’s talk about the reason why children with ASD and developmental delay do not favor bright colors, especially yellow.
Normally, neurotypical children love red and blue colors, that’s why so many toys and cartoons are printed in red because they are drawn to the color. Some researchers suggest it is because the baby needs to discriminate different emotional status from people, for example, an angry face and a sad face3. However, the actual mechanism is somehow argued and still under debate.
What about children with special needs? What are their color preferences? For a long time, many parents and teachers observed that ASD and developmental delay children seemed to have different color perception. Color obsession with green has been abundantly documented by researchers. In one particular case, it was documented that a boy with ASD used a green straw for stimming for more than three years!
In addition to the yellow color, a recent study4 from France and Japan in 2016 showed that ASD and developmental delay also have lower preference score in both pink and red colors.
So, what causes these differences? It may be due to enhanced sensitivity. Although they may be hyposensitive, over-sensitivity is a common characteristic of ASD/ developmental delay. For example, noise can be magnified and distorted leading to difficulties concentrating, or even a light touching their body can be painful and uncomfortable. In like manner, it leads to the aversion to some bright colors that are usually favored by neurotypical people.
What is the importance of the color preference? First of all, unfavorable color may have an inhibitory effect on them. Moreover, many studies revealed that the suitable colored materials could enhance task performance and reading ability. Actually, it does matter!
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There is an app on the market which can help minimize the sensory overload as an assistant tool for oromotor function training by practicing consonant-vowel or syllables combinations beneficial to increase speech sound variety and improve speech clarity. It is a flashcard app called Catchup Kids. The goal of this app is to create a reinforcing learning environment for children with autism and developmental delay with a fascinating cartoon and voice flashcard which has a low-sensitive color preference.
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Can Colors Influence Learning Abilities for Kids With Autism?
In conclusion, we should not ignore the importance of the special color preference in order to avoid sensory overload and to achieve an optimal learning environment for children with ASD and developmental delay.
- Franklin, A., Pitchford, N., Hart, L., Davies, I. R., Clausse, S., and Jenings, S. (2008a). Salience of primary and secondary colour in infancy. J. Dev. Psychol. 26, 471–483. doi: 10.1348/026151007X256672
- Franklin, A., Bevis, L., Ling, Y., and Hurbert, A. (2010). Biological components of color preference in infancy. Sci. 21, 346–354. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00884.x
- Changizi, M. A., Zhang, Q., and Shimojo, S. (2006). Bare skin, blood and the evolution of primate colourBiol. Lett. 2, 217–221. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0440
- Grandgeorge Marine, Masataka Nobuo (2016). Atypical Color Preference in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Front. Psychol., 23 December 2016 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01976
This article was featured in Issue 77 – Achieving Better Health with ASD