Do Kids With Autism Have a Hard Time Learning Colors?

by Amber Keefer

    By age 4, most children can identify different colors and shapes. But while some children with an autism spectrum disorder can recognize some colors, they can have trouble identifying others. Because not all kids with autism have the same behavior, communication, social or learning problems, your child might need help developing only in certain areas. Learning colors might be one of the skills that he finds difficult. The key is in finding the approach that works for helping your child learn colors.

    Developmental Milestones

    The developmental differences in children with ASDs are often characterized by not doing what they are expected to do at a certain age, notes the Autism Society of Los Angeles. Although problems sometimes appear earlier, parents don’t always notice them until a child is in an environment with other children who are the same age. A child’s difficulties often don’t become clearly evident until she attends a day care program or preschool. When it comes to naming colors, the problem might stem from a communication problem rather than a cognitive problem. Your child might recognize a color but not know how to express it through language.

    Give Him Fewer Choices

    If your child has an ASD and is having trouble identifying colors by the time he reaches preschool age, you can use a technique known as Discrete Trial Training to help him learn. Seat your child at a table or desk. Using color cards, place just two cards -- for example red and blue -- in front of him and then ask him to point to the blue card. Your child will be less confused if you give him fewer choices to start. If he responds correctly, praise him to reinforce the behavior. Take a brief break and then move on using two different color cards. Video applications of DTT also are available for teaching children colors.

    Using Prompts

    When employing the DTT technique for teaching, use prompts if your child needs help at first. Ask her to point to a particular color card as you point to the card yourself. Essentially, you are giving her the answer. Offer praise if she responds correctly. Whenever she responds incorrectly by pointing to the wrong color card, you point to the correct color card and say the color. Then move on to a new pair of cards. Eventually fade out the prompt once your child reaches the point where she gives you the correct answer frequently and no longer needs prompting.

    Environment

    The environment affects how well a child with autism can focus his attention when learning. You can help reduce your child’s anxiety by keeping distractions to a minimum when he's learning. Avoid talking too loud and keep your instructions simple. Be clear about what you are asking him to do. Depending on his level of functioning, your child might learn better with step-by-step, one-on-one instruction. He also might learn his colors more easily if you find a way to associate them with his particular interests. For instance, if he likes fire trucks, refer to fire trucks when you talk about the color red. Use pictures to help convey the idea.

    About the Author

    Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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