Yellow, and White, and Brown, Oh My.

Jake told me that he couldn’t eat peanut butter anymore.

He said that it is the wrong colour.

That it gives him nightmares and he can’t sleep at night.

That it is too light of a brown.

And I said, okay then.  I made him another lunch.

Now the question is, am I crazy?

Well, yes.  That is the name of this blog after all. But also, no.

My husband struggles with food of certain colours.  He has, for as long as he can remember.  I have teased him about this, tried to get him to try new things, and accepted it.  He doesn’t like yellow.  Or white sauces.  Seriously.  I am not the only one who has given him a hard time about this.

And now Jake?  Light brown?

I have recently read a novel titled, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.  It is a great read, I highly recommend it.  The main character is a teenager with autism.  He also has colour issues.  He watches the cars on the way to school in the morning.  If there are red cars, it is a good day.  If there are yellow cars or brown cars, it is a bad day.

Yellow and brown again.

What a strange way to decide if you are having a good day or bad day, I thought.

So I talked to my husband about his colour issues.  It was incredible.  We talked about colours for hours.  I really listened.  My husband has no diagnosis, but imagines that today if he were a child in school, he probably would.  Autism wasn’t the same thing when he was a child.

Back to the colours.

He remembers trying to sleep, closing his eyes, and seeing flashes of
colour.  If there was predominantly yellow and white, he couldn’t
sleep well.  Yellow, in particular, brought out the emotion–he even
created a name for the particular shade that he saw: “danger yellow.”
When he saw these colours, he had trouble relaxing, had trouble
falling asleep, and had nightmares.  He understood, as a young child,
that seeing yellow and white meant a bad night.

This is something!  This is amazing!

This is something I have control over! I can make lunches that are the right colours!  I can do that!  I can appreciate and understand that although I may be crazy, I may think that it’s crazy, it is real and really makes a difference for Jake.

Research online has not helped me much.  I did find this, from an interior design blog, however it does not cite the source of the research.

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.

I have looked online to see if there are other autistics describing similar colour aversions.  There isn’t much.  There are many descriptions of people who see words, numbers, or feelings in colour.  The book Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet describes this phenomenon well.  He is an autistic savant who remembers dates and numbers because he can see their colours.  This is called synesthia and is a legitimate neurological phenomenon that is being studied.  I don’t think this is what my husband and Jake are experiencing, but I don’t know.

Wikipedia defines synesthia as “a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.”  So, a crossing of neurons, where one sense, like seeing a colour, triggers the experience of another, like pain, or joy.

I have found a few people who describe disliking yellow or white, or tan (a light brown? Huh.)  So my husband and Jake aren’t alone in this.  However, others describe that the colours taste bad, make them nauseous, or are associated with negative things for them.  I have also looked up sleep disorders and tried to find connections to colours.

There is a considerable amount of research that shows that using a colour screen or colour tinted glasses can dramatically help autistic people process the things they see.  Literally, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses, or blue, green, or orange.  I am going to look into this further for Jake, sometime.

Yes, I have more research to do.  I will be looking for more information about this colour thing for years to come, I am sure.  But right now, I am thrilled that I know enough to go along with it.  I know enough not to tease him, to pressure him, or to force him to eat that peanut butter sandwich.  We are growing, my boy and I.