Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Color & Autism

Seeing Color Through Autistic Children’s Eyes
With Autism now affecting 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys, it’s imper
ative that architects, interior designers and color
professionals be aware of the specific design requirements, for this growing population. Special consideration needs to be given when selecting colors and finishes, particularly for public spaces where children frequent.

Autistic children frequently have difficulties with sensory integration, which are the senses that are experienced through sight, touch, sound, taste and smell.

They rely on their visual senses to tell them what is happening since they often difficulty decoding verbal cues. Here’s another important fact that we need to keep in mind, when selecting color for children’s spaces. Researchers have found that autistic children’s rods and cones (components of the eye) have changed 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. The color red for example, looks fluorescent and vibrates with intensity.

Environments with too much stimulus on walls, floors and counter surfaces can wreak havoc in neurologically delayed individual’s minds. Declutter! Disorganized, cluttered environments make it difficult for everyone to concentrate, especially for autistic children. For this reason it’s essential that their space be simplified.

  • Use non-defined patterns in fabrics, flooring and wall covering.
  • Color schemes should minimal hues; muted colors are preferred.
  • Put books, toys and other distractions out of sight; place them behind cabinet doors.
  • Draperies and shutters are distracting; use simple, inside mount blinds
  • Although color preferences vary from individuals, studies have shown that many autistic children favor pale pink.
  • Reduce the use of primary colors to light weight toys, which can be removed from the space if needed.
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  1. Autistic children have a greater likelihood than neurotypicals of having Irlen syndrome, which traces back to an abnormal ratio of cones for the principal colors. This presents difficulties in determining the fourth principal color, yellow, and leads to visual distortions and visual processing difficulties that then disturb other cortical processing that relies on visual information. This in turn can give rise to headaches, or simply worsen behaviors that are already problematic.

    This problem can be tested for and then compensated for with special tinted glasses. Parents could check this out relatively inexpensively with some colored overlays to see whether the child prefers to see the world through an overlay of a particular color. If there is any hint that a child prefers one color over another, the child could then be professionally evaluated. See

    In the interest of full disclosure: There is an Irlen tester in our family.

  2. What a helpful post this is. I hope lots of people get to see it. As a former teacher and now designer, your information rings true with my past experiences of designing classroom environments for children with autism.

  3. Thank you so much for this useful information. I'm happy to be a little more educated and be able to share this information with others.

  4. Thank you for this post. As interior designers we contribute to how our clients live and create environments that support them. With autism on the rise I'm sure we will find reason to learn more.

  5. Thank you for your article. I'm doing a color study for our building where we serve many students with Autism. I'm also doing research to incorporate Deigning spaces for people with disabilities into my Interior Design business.


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