How I Missed My Kindergartner's Color Deficiency

Roman’s perspective of the world was colored, literally, different, yet his outlook was unfazed.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
It was only two weeks into kindergarten when my son, Roman, brought home a coloring assignment, a cut-out owl, with a big letter F marked in red on the top of it. The owl was colored not brown, but green, adorned smartly in a graduation cap and gown, holding a diploma and donning wiry spectacles. Under the bitter mark was a lengthy and unsympathetic explanation of the grade: Owls are NOT green! With respect for the rules of writing, I use one exclamation point here, but Roman’s owl had not, one, but three of these dramatic punctuation marks, marks that typically need to be well earned when chosen over a simple period for ending a sentence.
I’m not undermining the importance of following directions and learning the motor skills and conventions of coloring in a kindergarten classroom, and if this had been a high school final exam, perhaps a math or a science or an English language test, my own instinct would have been to ask Roman why he didn’t try harder, why he didn’t get a better grade, explain that an F is not acceptable, as my overachieving parents would have done. However, my son seemed to be faced with a burned out teacher radiating indomitable meanness at this early stage in his education, a time when fostering success and enthusiasm about school is paramount. Even worse, I suspected something more significant.
I suspected that something was medically wrong with Roman.
As I held the crumpled owl in my palm that I had balled up in anger, a wooden knot rose up in my throat. I swallowed, slowly spread the owl out on my desk, and examined Roman’s beautiful work, that I had initially been critical of myself, his best effort. I put Roman’s folders back into his book bag, recalling the many times we’d played toddler games. I’d quizzed him like the proud mama I was. I’d held up flash cards and pictures for him to name. Animals. Shapes. Even letters.
And colors.
In toddlerease, he proudly named chinchillas, ostriches, and bearded dragons, from his book entitled, “My First Animal Book.” He could tell the difference between a puffin and a penguin which, at his age, I’m sure I could not – all the more reason he seemed too smart not to know his colors correctly.
But I figured he’d catch on eventually, didn’t sweat it.
Then I thought even further back, to images from my own childhood.
I recalled my own mother throwing up her arms at my father’s mismatched outfits. My grandmother noting how he had to read the position of the traffic lights, instead of the colors, green, yellow, red. My dad was colorblind, and I was certain, now, that Roman was, too.
Then I thought of how I’d failed as a mother the time I’d yelled at Roman for not picking up his toys from the lawn, remembered the time clearly. There was a brown baseball in plain sight and I was pointing right at it where he left it, along with numerous other whiffle bats and balls, lying on the grass.
“I don’t see it.” He shrugged.
“It’s right there in front of you,” I yelled in frustration.
And then I thought of how my own frustration might hinder Roman’s determination to succeed in school, throughout the year, if I didn’t hold back my urge now, to march into the principal’s office and have the teacher reprimanded for her intolerance to his unconventional coloring that was, to me, at least, so obviously indicative of a visual disability.
Instead of reacting, I poured myself a glass of wine. I gave Roman a hug and told him I liked his green owl, flattened out the paper and blacked out the F, the unkind words, too, with black sharpie marker. I put a sticker on it and pinned it on my office corkboard next to his baby pictures and snapshots of our family vacations.
How could I have missed this?
What kind of mother was I?
What kind of doctor?
I gave myself a little slack on my professional vocation, since I’m an anesthesiologist by training, not a pediatrician, not an ophthalmologist. But as a mother, I truly felt I’d failed.
I was determined not to create a bigger problem for my son, yet I wanted to help him. I’m aware that there is no cure for color deficiency, so my determination focused on ways to help him succeed, despite a possible disability.
I held back, instead of reacting negatively like Roman’s teacher had done, undulating waves of her criticism in our direction that crashed on the deaf ears of a developing child who still, after receiving the grade, could not understand what he had done wrong. There was no way he could visualize the clear distinction between the green and brown. I held back and I learned everything I could about the condition of color deficiency, which I had been calling colorblindness, incorrectly. I learned that up to eight percent of boys are color deficient, not possessing the correct number of cones in the inner eye needed to see shades of red and green colors as well as the rest of us can. I quickly researched the diagnosis, reading up on possible treatments which sadly, are lacking. In Roman’s case, color chart testing performed by his pediatrician confirmed that he was a deuteranope, or red green color deficient.
When I left the office I wrapped my arms around my little boy, handled my glassed eyes with tissues, trying to wipe away the uncertainty. He seemed more vulnerable, imperfect, yet I loved him more for his flaw, and I felt the intensifying urge to nurture and protect him. I realized that he’d face certain tasks that made his life much more challenging. I still felt guilty for my flood of emotions when I thought of how much worse it could be, how it wasn’t the most physically limiting disability he could face, and yet I smiled.
I smiled because mostly, it didn’t seem to bother him at all.
Roman’s perspective of the world was colored, literally, different, yet his outlook was unfazed. And as I took a moment to process the implications of his disability, I was determined to affect change in a positive way, a kinder and gentler way, when I explained his condition to his teacher. I thought of the thirsty bird in the famous Aesop’s Fable, who slowly raised the water level in the vase with each tiny stone it dropped into the vase with its beak. By solving the problem effectively and not knocking over the whole vase in the process, the bird quenched its thirst. Explaining Roman’s condition calmly to his teacher seemed to be a better way to try to prevent this from happening again in the future, than ratting her out to the principal would. And I knew that Roman would need to solve problems on his own one day, by labeling colors or asking for help.
She didn’t apologize.
This was disappointing, to say the least, yet I hadn’t created any additional tension that could affect Roman’s grades for the remainder of the school year. What was more important was the way I wanted my son to see me, not in tan or pale hues, not in shades of blonde or brunette or redhead hair, and not for the point of noticing the colors of my clothes, but to see the person I am. I wanted him to know that I would do everything in my power as a mother and as a doctor to help him. Even before doing so, I wanted him to see me as someone who would fulfill the Hippocratic Oath I took in medical school, one that applies as much to mothering as it does to medicine. I remained determined for him to see that my promise to him above all, is to do no harm.

Recent Study Says These 3 Things Can Raise Kids' IQ

Many factors affect kid’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. But a 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise it.

Most parents think their kids are pretty smart. We watch with delight as our kids learn to engage us with their curious baby eyes and expressions. We marvel in their ability to learn new skills. Sure, other people’s kids learn these skills, too, but we can’t help thinking our baby is the cleverest and maybe the most beautiful to boot.
By school age, though, the differences in children’s abilities begin to show. We get feedback about our child’s abilities when we are exposed to a larger pool of children. Maybe, like me, your little Einstein didn’t get selected for the special enrichment class for gifted children. Or perhaps your child’s class report comes back with grades in the average range and not above average.
There are many factors that affect children’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. A 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise children’s IQ. The analysis was extensive and only included high quality research trials of typically developing children aged from preschool to pre-adolescence. Thirty-six studies met the stringent criteria for the analysis, of which 18 had significant research outcomes.
Studies included in the analysis targeted five potential methods of increasing children’s IQ. These methods were multivitamin supplements, iron supplements, iodine supplements, learning to play a musical instrument, and training. Executive function training helps develop skills such as memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking.
The analysis determined that only three of the methods targeting IQ actually raised children’s IQ. These were:

Multivitamin supplements

The analysis found that multivitamins can help improve IQ, but only when given to children who are vitamin deficient. There were no benefits for children who showed no signs of deficiency.

Iodine supplements

Iodine was also successful in helping raise IQ, but only when given to children deficient in iodine. Again, there was no benefit to children with adequate levels of iodine.

Learning to play a musical instrument

Learning to play musical instruments has been repeatedly shown to develop executive function skills (memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking). The analysis found that learning to play a musical instrument raised children’s IQ.
Iron supplements and executive functioning did not show consistent and reliable results in the analysis. This means they cannot currently be considered to help raise IQ.

What does this mean for parents?

If you are concerned about your child’s IQ or you notice inconsistencies in your child’s academic performance, it’s important to remember that IQ continues to develop over time and can fluctuate due to a variety of factors.
In an interview with the BBC Professor Joan Freeman, a developmental psychologist who specializes in gifted children, said, “Given different environments and opportunities, IQ can develop and grow. Something as simple as a bad cold can make IQ go down temporarily.”
Also, IQ is not the only factor in success or personal earnings. The tests only measure a person’s cognitive ability, and being successful is about much more, says Freeman:
“IQ tests don’t measure other qualities, such as personality, talent, persistence, and application. You might not have a high IQ, but if you have a gung-ho personality, then you may use what you have more effectively than someone with a high IQ…. I regard IQ like a muscle. You may be born with the muscles of an Olympiad, but if you don’t use them, they will diminish.”
If you would like to help your child increase their IQ through supplements, examine your child’s diet as a first option. It can be hard to get children to eat a wide variety of food. If you decide to check you child’s iodine and vitamin levels, consider whether the stress of those tests is worth it.
Iodine can be measured with a urine test, but vitamin levels often require a blood test. Many children find blood tests distressing and even traumatizing. As a parent and a mental health professional, I would prefer to give my child a multivitamin tablet and see if it helps rather than have them undergo a blood test. Always discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
Learning a musical instrument is a natural option for many families who enjoy music. If music has not been a part of your life, you may not know where to start. There are many ways to immerse your child in music. Schools offer music programs with instrumental lessons. Consider enrolling your child in a school that has a robust music program or, if you can afford it, private lessons.
Children under the age of five can have difficulty learning an instrument due to a range of factors, including their size and developmental capacity for regular practice. Consider instead exposing them through playing different types of music in the home, experimenting playfully with musical instruments, or attending an early learning music group with other young children as an entry point.
Your child has many qualities of which their IQ is only one part. Remember that IQ alone will not determine how successful your child is. Qualities such as persistence, parental support, encouragement, and age-appropriate opportunities will also raise IQ and support future success.
These things also happen to lie at the heart of good parenting.

Why Social-Emotional Learning Works

Things that happen socially cause an emotional impact and can influence learning in children.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a relatively new concept in teaching. The concept comes from CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). Essentially, it’s the idea that things that happen socially cause an emotional impact and can influence learning in children. Teachers are trained by the social staff within the school to develop skills to better address these issues.

If you’re a parent of a special needs child, like I am, you’re probably ready for this type of learning in your school. In advocating for my son in the school system, I have been a great supporter of social-emotional learning. Not only does it benefit typical children but it is also a strategy that should be used when forming IEPs (Individual Education Plan) for special needs children. Here’s why it works.

Social-emotional learning gets results

In studies done by CASEL, there was an 11 percentile point gain on average in students that participated in SEL. Helping children tap into their social side and learn to interact with their peers creates greater participation and makes working in a group setting easier. There are fewer behavioral problems and greater achievement overall. 

Think about what that means for children with issues such as autism or ADHD. It provides a willingness for inclusion and an openness to listen to all points of view. This also sets up special needs children for better modeling of their peers.

Destress and plug into positivity

The key factors in SEL are to teach social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, and self-management. By touching on these parts of their selves, children learn to understand one another and develop deeper relationships with their peers. They learn to tune into others’ feelings and develop coping strategies for difficult times.

When they develop these skills, research has shown that children show less depression and anxiety, and withdraw less socially. Even years later as adults, those taught with the SEL program were still able to deal with stressful situations better than those without SEL. Many of these coping strategies are the same strategies that our special needs children are taught through therapies. What makes SEL great is that every child is on the same page and they are learning these skills together.

Bring it home

The SEL program is designed to bring the learning home to the family and even to the community. It’s a program based on respect. It teaches us to learn who we are as individuals and what our needs are in the moment and beyond. Teaching how to communicate those needs is essential in life, and not every child has a home life that follows this path.

Let’s face it, we live in a busy world, full of obligations and stress. Most days, I’m just trying to get dinner on the table and homework done. Families that learn to talk openly about feelings without judgement and work toward solutions together will strengthen the connections that are already present.

Now imagine your community doing the same thing. Much of the research conducted and discovered by CASEL has shown that children involved in SEL have grown to be better workers. Many work places are also adding some components of SEL to their training platforms.

Gone are the days of negative reinforcement and corporal punishment, thank goodness. There has been so much research done in the past 20 years that shows how harmful these old ideas of parenting and teaching have been. The answer has been with us the whole time as it goes along with the Golden Rule: treat others the way we would like to be treated, even our children. The SEL program is a great way to begin.

Ask your school about it. Be an advocate for your children and push for the type of learning that involves the entire self. At every IEP meeting that I have had for my son, the same issue is always brought up: if the problem isn’t directly related to academics, it cannot be addressed. However, when I begin to point out that his anxiety over facing a class where he knows no one will create an environment where he cannot learn, they pause.

The emotional impact that our children feel daily will undoubtedly spill over into learning. Children who have difficult home lives or who are extremely introverted will experience that same emotional overspill. There are so many life situations that can play a role in how our children learn. SEL is the perfect way to address them all.

Mothers Hold Children’s Hands for a While – or Sometimes Forever

When I co-owned a home décor business, one of the products featured in our catalog was a calligraphy sign that said: “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a while… their hearts forever.” At the time, my kids were five and three, then eight and five, and 12 and nine – Lindsey and Michael practically grew up in the warehouse where I packed and shipped those sweetly framed pieces of art to our customers.
During those busy years, I adored holding my toddler’s, preschooler’s, and grade-schooler’s hands. They were so small, so soft, so innocent. I held them when we crossed streets, when we walked to the park, and sometimes, when I was driving down the road. I’d reach behind me to the backseat where the kids were safely buckled in and slip my palm into Lindsey’s or Michael’s. Without ever saying a word, we’d hold onto each other for a mile or two.
In July, my 37-year-old daughter and I took a cruise to Alaska. The last port on the itinerary was Victoria. We’d traveled there on Holland America 10 years before, when my daughter was 27. Out of all the ports of call, Lindsey said she enjoyed this one most because at the end of that evening, we had taken a horse drawn carriage from the Empress Hotel back to the cruise ship. Lindsey grinned the entire ride. So, we were both looking forward to returning to this charming Canadian city and seeing a little more of the town.
As soon as we exited the ship and headed down the ramp of the MS Eurodam, Lindsey reached out to hold my hand. You see, back when my daughter was 16 month’s old, she had a grand mal seizure. Afterwards, she developed essential tremors that caused her hands, arms, and head to shake. In 2006, doctors at Oregon Health Science diagnosed her with intellectual disabilities, explaining that a short in her neurological system causes information to process differently in her brain than in those of her more typical counterparts. They also predicted she would eventually live in a group home. Then in her late 20s, Lindsey began to suffer from balance and spatial issues that caused additional mobility problems.
Despite struggling daily, my daughter has proven the OHSU doctors wrong. Lindsey lives independently – in her own apartment – and she works a part-time job at a local State Farm Insurance agent’s office. Some days, Lindsey’s tremors are mild and anyone observing her might not even notice. Other days she fights to confidently take a single step – yet forces herself to take many. A few years ago, for a short period of time, Lindsey felt more comfortable using a walker to get around our small community. Lately, though, she’s graduated back to a cane. Some days, she doesn’t even need that.
Once we left the port area, I offered to hail a taxi to take us into town. Lindsey said she’d rather walk. That answer pleased me because the mile stroll along the waterfront – from the port into downtown Victoria – is delightful. Besides, my Fitbit indicated that I needed a lot more steps to reach my daily goal.
But as we headed down the sidewalks, the paved paths, the wooden walkway near the water, past the houseboats and the little boat taxi landing, unless Lindsey was gripping my hand, she took baby steps. It was as if her legs were frozen.
When I held my daughter’s hand, she moved at a fairly normal pace. When I let go, cruise ship passengers seemed to whizz past us as if they were running in a relay. Holding on tight, Lindsey stepped confidently. Letting go, my daughter moved slower than a sloth.
I know Lindsey cannot help this. At least I do not wish to believe she does this for attention. Although my mind did wander back to recent days on the cruise ship and how effectively Lindsey moved about the corridors with only her cane and no help from me. Still, I chose to consider that on those unfamiliar streets, in that unfamiliar city, she needed to hold my hand.
As we walked, I thought back to the years when I treasured holding my little one’s hands. In most cases, it wasn’t a mandatory gesture – it was a way to connect, to let them know I was thinking about them. As children grow, though, most mothers hope their kids will let go of their hands and begin to navigate the world on their own.
Sauntering toward the Empress Hotel, holding my 37-year-old’s hand, I glimpsed someone staring at us, trying to assess our situation. My face flushed red. A rush of emotions surged through me. Envy. Why can’t we be like all the other mothers and daughters? Grief, then deep sadness. For Lindsey. She struggles so. And even though my brain comprehends that she can’t help having mobility issues, I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed to have to walk the sidewalks of Victoria hand-in-hand with a 30-something woman – to stand out from the other mothers and daughters walking toward the town’s center. Then shame. Shame because I allowed myself to care what other people think, to permit untoward feelings in the first place.
My mind somersaulted back in time, back to my warehouse where I also packed a wooden sign we carried: There are two things we should give our children. One is roots, and the other is wings.
“Why can’t my daughter have wings?” my brain screamed, suddenly feeling angry and frustrated along with all those other emotions. We were surrounded by happy, chatty tourists, and yet, I felt lonely. When it comes to my daughter, after all my years of counseling, I know it is okay to feel a mixture of emotions. All emotions have value. There is no right or wrong way to feel. I took a deep breath. I released the air slowly. I turned toward my daughter.
“You’re doing good, Linds,” I said. She gripped my hand tighter. Her face concentrated on the path ahead. She steadied her cane on the pavement, took a step, lifted her other leg, and shifted her body forward – one slow movement at a time. I studied my girl. “She definitely has roots,” I thought. Independent roots. And she proves them again and again, day after day.
As I walked toward the city center holding my daughter’s hand, I knew she also had wings. Her wings may not allow her to fly as high as I’d initially hoped on the day she was born, but compared to what the OHSU doctors predicted back when she was six, my girl is soaring.
And, sometimes, whether it’s convenient or not, and whether I embrace it or not, Lindsey is going to need to hold my hand.
This article was originally published here.