Sunday, April 15, 2018

Color & Autism

 Throughout my career I’ve helped countless frustrated parents of autistic children to make empowering color choices for their kids’ environments. My experiences of getting to know these families inspired me to research the effect of color on people with ASD and to offer solutions for creating colorfully harmonious environments.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As more and more children are diagnosed, it’s imperative that parents and design professionals be aware of the specific requirements for this growing population. Special consideration needs to be given when selecting colors, finishes, lighting and storage.  

Does your child avoid a certain room in the house or an area of his classroom? The culprit may simpler than you think. Your child may be avoiding these areas because they’re too colorfully decorated.  

ASD children and adults tend to have heightened senses. Sights, sounds, smells, touch, sunlight, changes in barometric pressure, and--you guessed it--color, can have various pronounced effects on people with autism.  

It’s been theorized that people with ASD may have higher sensitivity to color differentiation than non-autistic people. This explains how subtle differences in a color’s hue can affect people with autism. As someone who spends her days creating color palettes and deciphering the minute differences between hues, I’m enthralled with exploring the color abilities of people with autism. This heightened sense of color comes as no surprise, considering research which suggests that people diagnosed with ASD interpret sensory experiences with greater intensity than their neuro-ordinary peers. In other words, for people with autism, sounds are louder, touch is more acute, smells are stronger, lights are more glaring, and colors are more colorful.  

Because of their heightened senses, people with autism also frequently have difficulties with sensory integration. Since they often have difficulty decoding verbal cues, they rely on their visual senses to tell them what is happening. Here’s another important fact that we need to keep in mind when selecting colors for children’s spaces:  

"One can think of autism as a brain impairment, but another way to view autism is as a condition where the balance between different brain processes is impaired," says Duje Tadin, a co-author of the study in the Journal of Neuroscience. "That imbalance could lead to functional impairments, and it often does, but it can also result in enhancements." 

What are the best colors for autistic children? First of all, just like all children, children with autism are individuals. They react differently to their environment and can tolerate varying levels of color, sound and patterns. Just like the rest of us, they have color preferences and different emotional responses to different colors. However, there are a few colors that tend to be better suited for children with autism, as well for almost everyone else. If your child is very sensitive to color stimuli, for instance, then toned down colors are best. 

Researchers have found that autistic children’s rods and cones (components of the eye) vary from the non-autistic child’s due to chemical imbalances or neural deficiencies. Colors appear more vibrant to autistic children. Of the autistic children tested, 85% saw colors with greater intensity than non-autistic children.  

Red is a very powerful color. But for someone with ASD, red can look fluorescent or even vibrate with intensity. It can be painful to your child or can even make him angry. 

White reflects all colors that surround it. For children with autism, bright white can be so overwhelming that it can hurt their eyes. Bright white surfaces in particular can be overwhelming, especially if the surfaces are highly reflective. These kinds of surfaces can cause eyestrain and agitation.  

Green means go! Step on the gas and full speed ahead. Greens are the safest colors for ASD. Greens bring balance and harmony to any environment. According to child psychologist Lynne Harrison, soft green is one of the best colors for environments of autistic children.  

Blue is an instant de-stresser. The colors of water are cool, calm, and peaceful. It’s no mystery why blue is the number one favorite color of people around the globe. The soothing, non-threatening aspects of blue are generally ideal for autistic children. 

Pink comforts and subdues. Although color preferences vary among individuals, studies have shown that many autistic children prefer light hues of pink.  
Studies show that environments with too many sensory stimuli on walls, floors and counter surfaces can wreak havoc on the minds of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. The solution: declutter! Disorganized, cluttered environments make it difficult for most people to concentrate, but this is an especially common challenge for autistic children. For this reason it’s essential that their space be simplified.  
The safest way to introduce new colors in your child’s environment is to do it slowly. Observe and note any behavior or emotional changes when the new color is introduced. 

Monochromatic color schemes (different tints and shades of the same color) instantly create a peaceful environment. For example: light brown, medium brown and dark brown.  

Analogous color schemes (three colors side by side on the color wheel) create balance. For children with ASD, consider cooler colors, such as blue, blue-green, and green, or blue, blue-violet and violet.  

Complementary color schemes (two colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel) create maximum contrast. For example: red and green, or blue and orange. Complementary color schemes can be extremely stimulating and as a general rule, are less ideal in spaces for those with ASD. 

Patterns & Texturers
As with color, pattern and texture preferences also differ from person to person. If your child struggles to concentrate, then it is helpful to reduce the amount of visual stimuli in his environment. Many autistics do better in spaces free of busy, repetitive patterns. 
Whether on walls, window treatments, or bed coverings, the ideal patterns are minimal, organic, or subtle abstracts. The patterns that tend to work best are less busy overall, such as non-defined, more organic shapes, like leaves and sticks. Super-strong graphic images can be too overstimulating.
As for texture, some children prefer warm and fuzzy textiles while others prefer cool, smooth surfaces. 

Space & Order
A common trait among people with autism is the preoccupation, and in
some cases obsession, with order. Some autistic children will spend hours lining up toys instead of playing with them. 
For these children, simplifying and reducing the amount of stimuli is highly important. The best way to support children with these needs is to design an organized room where everything is put in its place. Keeping books and toys out of sight will reduce clutter. An organized room can also stimulate verbal requests from the child. 

Convincing children to go to sleep can be challenging. This challenge is especially common with autistic children. Since the bedroom is the space in which we spend the most time, while sleeping, it’s the most important room to get the colors right.  
Ideally, the bedroom should be a place where your child is able to feel calm and relaxed. The environment should be conducive to rest and a good night's sleep. Jarring colors, textures, or visual distractions can prevent this from happening, while softer colors and textures can create a restful place. To begin with, avoid using bright, primary colors. Consider using, soft, tranquil cool colors such as purples, blues and greens. For most people, these colors typically have the most soothing effect. 
Furniture should be bolted to the wall or be heavy. Bean bag chairs may be an inventive solution for seating; however, these are dangerous due to the risk of suffocation.  
When it comes to flooring choices, carpeting is recommended for its safety traits and noise reduction capacity. Invest in a carpet that has allergen, anti-microbial, and easy to clean features. Another option is a hardwood floor, covered with a rug with allergen, anti-microbial and easy to clean features.  
Window blinds and drapes, with their multitude of lines, can be distracting. Blinds tend to work best. It’s best to do an inside mount (in the window frame). For a more uniform look, paint the window frame the same color as the wall. Better yet, match the room’s paint color to the blind’s color. 

Dining Room
For parents of an autistic child, convincing their child to eat can be one of the biggest challenges. Due to their highly sensitive palates, many children with autism are extremely selective with their food choices.  
Consider using accents of reds and oranges in your dining areas. Another helpful color tool is to have a special plate that separates the foods in these energizing colors. Many children with autism prefer their different foods not to touch each other. Reds and oranges stimulate the appetite, which is why it’s the predominant color scheme used by fast food chains.  
But before you paint your dining room red from head to toe, slowly introduce red. If you already know that red is a triggering color for your child, then try yellows and oranges. Another word of caution: if you yourself are working on maintaining or losing weight, you may want to limit reds and oranges in the dining room. 

It’s a well known fact that natural light is linked to productivity, while excessive levels of artificial light can spark annoyance. It’s concerning, for instance, that so many schools are now mandating (more economical) fluorescent lighting, when we know these kinds of lights have multiple negative effects. 

The right lighting is an extremely important consideration, since glare, noise, and flickering can create sensory havoc. Whenever possible, use LED lighting. It’s the closest thing to natural sunlight and it helps kids focus, both at home and in school. 

Ambient or diffused lighting typically reduces glare. If your child tends to have frequent episodes, try putting dimmers on the light switches to create softer lighting. Many parents have shared with me that the simple act of dimming the lights in a room where their child is having an episode shortens the duration of the episode.

Denise Turner, ASID,CID,CMG is a colorist and certified interior designer. She’s an author, speaker, color and design trend forecaster, product designer and president of the Color Turners. 
She also specializes in using color to create harmonious spaces for children with autism. 

Turner is an ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) professional member, Certified Interior Designer, CMG (Color Marketing Group) Board of Director, former ASID chapter president, and UCLA graduate. 

Photo by, Steven Libralon

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Do’s and Don’ts When Using Color

By Denise Turner, ASID,CID CMG

The key to any great creative endeavor has always been to learn the rules before you can break them. Sometimes you can have beginner’s luck and a project can turn out fine. But more often than not, without a basic understanding of color and design, an innocent idea can be a costly mistake that you have to live with.
The good news is that once you understand the basics, you can customize these for your own rooms. Here are some basic “Dos and Don’ts” when using color:

~DON’T be afraid to express yourself with color. If you absolutely love lime green, then work it into your color scheme. It can be a great accent color.
If you simply must have that 1970s retro, upholstered chair in hues of orange and olive green, then surround it with colors that complement it. If you don’t feel bold enough to paint an eggplant accent wall, you can always use that color to paint an accent table.

~DO consider your home’s mood. Is your home energetic and lively? Refined and peaceful? Romantic and comfortable? Child- and pet-friendly?  Your home’s mood should reflect your lifestyle and personal taste—key preferences to consider when selecting a color scheme. A word of caution: many homeowners experience emotional responses when their walls go from white to colored. Consider living with colored walls for a few days before deciding whether to go back to white. For more information about how color affects us, refer to Colors Unveiled.

~DO think small. If you’re color-shy and not sure where to begin, think small. Experiment with a powder room, accent wall, or laundry room. If you’re doing your own painting, practice on a small area first. Live with it for a couple days, and if you don’t like it, repaint.

~DON’T neglect the ceiling. Ceilings represent one-sixth of a room’s space, yet are often ignored or get nothing more than a coat of white paint.
White has been the traditional choice for ceilings, yet if you’re willing to step outside the box, using color on the ceiling can add striking contrast and excitement to your home’s interior.

~DO consider the room’s existing colors before adding new colors. Make sure to complement the existing colors in the room, especially those of fixed items, such as flooring, cabinets, ceilings, counter surfaces, and colors coming in from the window.
One caveat, especially if you’re a first-timer: be mindful of the colors already present before you clear out the room to paint. Once the room is cleared out, some colors that will affect new colors may not be apparent.

~DO understand the difference between warm and cool colors. The ability to identify a color’s temperature will make it easier to choose colors that work well together. Have you ever brought home paint samples or decorative items, and somehow they didn’t look quite right in your space? Odds are the color’s temperature was the culprit.

~DO get inspired. Color inspiration can come from anything that catches your eye or expresses your style. Select a favorite color to pull from artwork, rugs, photos, fabrics, dishes, and magazines. Even something as small as a flower or postcard from your favorite vacation can provide color inspiration and possible color schemes.

~DON’T be afraid to go beyond your color comfort zone. Consider soft neutrals as main colors and try vivid colors to accent. Live with the test colors for a couple of days and view them in different lighting; you may love the colors in one lighting but not another.

~DON’T look at samples under temporary bulbs hanging from pigtail lamp holders (refer back to lighting).

~DON’T purchase your paint after looking at the chips for the first time at the store. That would be like marrying a person after the first date. You have to ease into a color change. Instead, grab several paint chips (4-6 of the same color) and tape them together. It’s virtually impossible to visualize what a 2”x 2” paint chip will look like in an entire room, so try these tips to help you find the right color:
•    Test paint colors against interior finishes such as carpet, fabric tile, wood, and solid surfaces.
•    View paint chips in their intended color and lighting environment and be sure to check the color at different times of day.
•    View paint chips vertically and horizontally; they may look different at different angles. Better yet, purchase small containers of the intended colors and paint them on poster boards. You can move the boards around, look at the colors in your home’s light, and see how the color reacts in the space.
•    Let your test paint dry. Wet paint looks different after it dries. Recheck dry paint alongside your samples before making your final color decision.
•    Many paint companies use software with tools that allow you to take a picture of your room and upload with the proposed color. This will give you a decent overall view, but I would follow the above tips to ensure accuracy.

~DON’T be afraid to use dark colors in small spaces. One of the cardinal rules that many of us learn in design school is that a small room should be decorated in light colors, so that it appears larger. While this may generally be good advice, it’s not always necessary. A small room can look stylish with dark walls, and light trim and accents. You may need to add more light fixtures, as darker rooms tend to absorb more light than off-white rooms.

~DON’T get overwhelmed with the magnitude of color choices. With the majority of paint color systems averaging 1,500 colors per system, there are literally millions of colors and style options to choose from. If you’re going to start a decorating project soon, give yourself a deadline for when you’ll stop researching and start decorating. Then, set a deadline to create the color palette, and get to work!
The easiest and fail-safe way to come up with a color palette is to pick up a color card at the paint store. They’re free and were created by color professionals like myself to help consumers select the right colors for their home. Go ahead and use it—it’ll be our little secret.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Saturday, January 6, 2018

What’s In a Color Name?

Were all aware that color matters. The right color product can generate sales and the wrong color can lose them. But did you know that the right color name can be just as important? Whether its Posh Pelican,” Luv Hueor Beach Buoys, an enticing color name has the power to excite, persuade, and ultimately close a sale. 

Have you ever wondered who gets paid to do the fun job or naming all those textiles and paint colors? Yes, that would be me! After designing paint color systems and color palettes for the textile and building material industry for over 15 years, today I name colors as part of my job, as I did for Kelly Moore Paints.  

Before you say dream job!” Keep in mind, the average paint color system contains 1,500 colors (give or take a few hundred), which begin their lives as nameless, color chip orphans.

With some of the strange names that the paint companies are coming up with these days, you might suspect that theyre just pulling names out of thin air or that alcohol is probably involved. Trust me! Theres a method to this madness.

In the years of designing products and naming them, Ive discovered that in the art of color naming no two color namers do it the same way. Theres no Color Naming for Dummies” book. As far as I know, there’s no class to learn how to do it and it doesn’t appear as a career choice on a high school guidance counselor’s assessment test.

Although we color namers each have different ways of approaching the task, we have the same goal in mind: to sell more product through color. The bottom line is that color names are marketing tools that help to sell products.

Heres some insight into the reasoning and creative force behind how its done. The goal is to stimulate a personal connection between the color and intended end user by summoning a memory or evoking compelling emotions (even if theyre dark ones), so long as it results in a sale.

Call me strange, but I view each color that Im proposing for a new product line as one of my little babies. I want it to be loved and in demand for its uniqueness, and bottom line, I want it to sell like crazy.

My ultimate goal in naming colors is to get a physical reaction out of the prospective customer. As customers go over the clever names on a color card, roll their eyes, raise an eyebrow, smirk, smile, chuckle, or laugh, theyre unknowingly seeing every color in the line. Every second they hold the color card increases the likelihood that they will find a color to purchase and not reach for your competitors product.

Guaranteed, if a customer says the color name out loud, it will be embedded in his or her mind for the rest of the day. But the ultimate “got ya!” moment is when the color name engages verbal communication.

As color consultant, I create color palettes that develop into new product lines and design tools to help customers find and match colors. I also name the company’s colors and product lines.

Recently, while visiting a customer’s booth at a trade show, I was able to see firsthand how my work impacted their customers. At one point, I eavesdropped on a conversation in which two female interior designers explained to their male sidekick what Raccoon Eyes” were. They continued to walk around the booth, laughing while reading the names, probably totally unaware that in the process of responding to the catchy names, they were seeing all the colors on display. The man laughed so hard when he read Not-Yo-Cheese(named after my dog Nacho Libre) and continued to sayNot-Yo-Cheese as he left the booth.