From a mom’s heart

There is a world of colours seen by those who are colourblind. They aren't the same hue as the ones the other 92 per cent of males see (less than one per cent of females are colourblind), but they are beautiful and they are nuanced.

What they are not is verbal. There is no message from the retina to the owner of the eyes that other people see a different palette. There is only an adult - perhaps it's a teacher, perhaps a grandparent or mom and dad - who asks the little one to bring over the yellow jacket and instead the green one is presented. The cause is so shrouded in the effect that it is often imperceptible, but it sometimes knocks down a bigger domino, like the expectant adult thinking "hmm, doesn't listen very well" or even "hmm, he's a bit stupid, that one."

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The child's mismatched socks might suggest a slob to the observant adult, and the pink sky and orange grass in the colouring book might suggest a carelessness or even recklessness, or just as inaccurate: a free spiritedness.

Life doesn't usually build to the point where that same unwittingly colourblind person, now an adult, attempts to wind the green electrical wire instead of the black one and in one flash never gets to know that the cause of all this was simple and generally harmless.

The fact is, colourblindness is neither protection nor danger, it is just a state of being. In extreme examples, it helps in military applications that colourblind people can sometimes see through camouflage trickery, or search and rescue applications that colourblind people can sometimes differentiate the foliage from the sweater of the victim.

But it can be harmful when you think you've got a nice tan building and in fact your skin is sunburning, or if the pink is safely cooked out of that chicken breast, or far from shore in a small boat if that big cloud is a cheerful grey or an ominous gunmetal shade.

True life-threatening situations are rare, however. What colourblind people suffer from the most is human interactions, especially if it is not detected early. Humiliation, bullying, alienation from loved ones, employment roadblocks, low self esteem, and general frustration can all occur for those who have colourblindness - not because of the altered state of their vision but because of the communication impasse between people.

This is why Anne Scott Watkinson fumed about the lack of tactile resources available when she hungrily dug through the literary pantry looking for answers - looking even for questions she hadn't thought of - when her son was diagnosed with colourblindness. They found out by accident, or at least without that intention, but it was caught as a matter of course by an optometrist whose standard tests easily pulled the epiphany from the young boy. Watkinson took him for that eye exam thinking him perhaps in need of glasses, as she was, because she detected he couldn't read the green digits on the stove clock.

Almost immediately, during that appointment, the truth was revealed. It was a benign revelation. It cost their family nothing for special tools or lifestyle changes or medication. It just helped immensely to have the knowledge.

That's why her new book on the subject is simply called Colourblind! with a happy exclamation point. (Note the Canadian spelling of the word, not sans "u" as Americans would do.)

That ! was suggested by her son, because living knowledgeably made the discovery of his colourblindness a pleasant experience thereafter.

"It's not at all a barrier in life, if you know. It's just something to be aware of," said Watkinson, who is getting used to her title of first-time author.

She admitted, when she heard the news from the optometrist, she was sad.

"I was worried he couldn't see the full beauty of the world. I was worried that he wouldn't be able to lead a full life, that his options for careers would be limited. Those initial reactions were wrong, but there wasn't much information to help me."

The subtitle of this new book is "For Kids" and it is thin and loaded in graphics to make this truly child-friendly. It is written as a story you'd read at quiet time, or to assure your child that all was going to be well if such a diagnosis ever happened in your home.

There are little tests inside that are not clinically diagnostic but could be fun indicators of colourblindness for any reader. There are photos of a child using all the testing equipment the optometrist might use on them to get to the bottom of their own colourblindness. It is intended to demystify the whole thing for both parents and the child, or even a classroom of kids.

And for all who want to think about it, all the condition is, in usual cases, is the difference between watching a colour TV and a black-and-white TV. All the depth and subtlety and clarity of vision are still present. It's just the greens, yellows, reds, purples and oranges are dimmer sometimes to the point of blue and grey tones.

"In some ways, colourblindness is a superpower," said Watkinson. "It can be fun. It gives you special abilities."

Watkinson noted that many celebrities have had no trouble negotiating the political and social streets of life due to their colourblindness.

"The reason blue is the most prominent colour for Facebook is because Mark Zuckerberg (the inventor) is colourblind," she said. He can't differentiate reds and greens. Blues are vibrant to him.

Other famous colourblind people include former President Bill Clinton, singer-actor Bing Crosby, golfer Jack Nicklaus, writer-philosopher Mark Twain, British heir to the throne (and helicopter pilot) Prince William, and film director Christopher Nolan, who is famous for his use of black-and-white segments in the movie Memento and the noir visual mood to the rebooted Batman franchise.

Colourblind! For Kids is available now at Books & Company or online at Amazon. Watkinson is already working on a follow-up book - a guide for parents and teachers. Her website (www.colourblindforkids.com) has a book-order button and plenty of information about colourblindness.

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