When children say that they don’t want to wear something or eat something, it is not a disorder. It is a gift. They are basically saying that the piece of clothing that we are asking them to wear, or the food we are asking them to eat are not a match for their deeper selves in that moment.
Your child is likely picking up information about their environment that you as the parent may just not perceive. They may know that the light is slightly more blue today and so they shouldn’t wear a deep blue dress. They may know that the light is slightly more red today so the pink top they wore yesterday will overpower them. They may know that the light feels a little more blue today and that means they can only eat crunchy food and they won’t like scratchy textures or harsh sounds. They may know that the light feels a little more red today and they need something soft on their plate and would like something soft to cuddle.
What your child has is a gift to detect the subtle changes in energy inside them and all around them because they detect subtle changes in the light spectrum. If they are given the support to hone their gift, they will be able to use it to nourish themselves and make themselves and others feel good. Without the right kind of support and by medicating the problem, their gift could be lost to the world for ever.
How I see the spectrum often makes me feel that I am watching TV in HD and then someone has turned the setting up one notch further. I feel that the branches on the sky are a little more pronounced than is comfortable and all of my 3D perception is very subtly altered.
My perception of sound is also altered meaning that sounds stand out more than is comfortable. I am constantly aware of every sound around me. This means the world can feel a bit harsh or stark. I tend to prefer to be in places where there is less clutter and less intrusive sound. Struggling to process movement also adds to my difficulty with being in busy places. And I struggle to engage with practical activities such as cooking.
Now my fourteen year old son is different to me. It seems that he may have the experience of waching TV in low definition. Things aren’t unclear or fuzzy but they seem to be more blended. He doesn’t like clothes with tags on because he says they look tatty. He worried that he had wrecked our plastic kitchen chair when he dropped some raspberry on it from his apple and raspberry crumble. He can’t seem to see stains as separate from the object that they are staining. He is distressed by a spot of blood on anything. He checks all our cutlery for marks before eating his lunch. He struggles to engage with practical tasks such as spreading pate on his crackers.
My son’s perception of sound is also altered. He is fine with mechanical sounds like a spinning washing machine but really struggles with speech and can’t tolerate one note of singing. I wonder if sounds are too blended for him. He is happy listening to a YouTuber who has removed all the gaps in his speech so sounds like he hardly takes breath! He doesn’t struggle to process movement. He likes it. He thrives on having buzz around him as long as he doesn’t need to engage with it practically.
I am much more likely to be over-stimulated. My son is much more likely to be under-stimulated.
And this is why my son loves cities! Well, for a short burst of time anyway!
CVI stands for Cerebral Visual Impairment and it is the closest diagnosis we can find to the experience of ambient colour sensitivity that my son and I have.
To avoid brightness, UV and business, we decided to leave for the seaside at 8:00 am and as the sea is quite close to us, by 8:45 we found ourselves walking down the seafront of the popular Dorset town of Lyme Regis.
Previously I had carefully packed 3 rucksacks with cameras, binoculars, snacks and drinks and chosen the right colour coat for myself to wear on that day. Also I had to choose some combination of hat and brim to keep out the brightness and UV. My son was in his usual grey, and I was in my usual white bamboo trousers plus pink coat and the hat of the day which happened to be purple. My husband was in his usual blue shorts and white t-shirt. He would wear colour and pattern if we could only manage it.
We have 3 seats in the front of our car (an old Honda FRV) and my son sat with his phone and headphones listening to his techno music to block out the sound of the engine and the wheels on the road. I sat trying on tinted glasses to find the optimum pair for that day and my husband concentrated on driving!
When we reached Lyme Regis we went to our usual carpark and parked under our shady tree. We got out of the car and my son asked for his No.3 tints and I put a sunhat on his head. He went straight to find his camera (a big old DSLR one.) He put the strap over his head and straight away was taking a picture of two seagulls on a roof near to where we had parked. It was the sort of picture most people would miss, not thinking it was exciting enough. But not Luca. He finds the pictures others don’t see.
We paid for the carpark and then walked down the steep hill into Lyme town. I was commenting on how pleased I was with my new pink ski jacket. Yes, it was about 17 degrees and I was wearing a ski jacket! Temperature is not something I process easily. We walked down to the front and on a big wall from where we could see the whole beach laid out before us, I started to unpack my glasses! I had some prescription glasses, some purple glasses with prescription, and three different sets of polarising glasses. I was desperately looking for polarising glasses with the correct tint because I had realised that I couldn’t look at the colour or the movement of the sea. My son was becoming impatient wanting to move on but I knew I had to either find the right glasses or filter out the sea somehow. Having come to the seaside, that thought was depressing so I dug deeper into my bag. And I found a pair of pinkish purple polarising glasses. I put them on and Ahhhh, I could breathe! Everything just went calm and I looked at the sea and it had transformed from ugly and angry to beautiful and tranquil . Now I stood a chance of enjoying the rest of our trip.
Next I knew I mustn’t lose control of things when it comes to Luca. He has limited energy when we are out and if we walk too far, he might not have the energy to get home. We walked along the seafront and there were more seagull pictures to take. And Luca has a particularly clever way of tracking them and and keeping them in focus as they move across the sky. Everyone was happy . .
My husband has a way of being drawn towards the Cob that juts out into the sea, like a bee to a honey pot. But this always means a longer walk and always means going through the business and clutter to get there. Suddenly there is sand and cafes and lots of people, meaning lots of clutter, noise and smells. And yes, once again we found ourselves drawn towards the Cob. And once more I wasn’t happy! I started walking faster which is always code for ‘I want to get out of here quickly!’ so we found a quiet side street and I immediately felt that I could breathe again. And there on a wall nestled between the rooves was a seagull’s nest with a parent looking after their young, so my son was happy now too!
So what was next? Hunger, of course. I suddenly realised I needed a snack so we headed down to the pebbles as my son doesn’t like the sand and, as I said, the beach was too busy. We spread out our picnic blanket and I got out my sandwich. My husband got out his little pack of Nairn’s chocolate oat biscuits. Then my son said “You can’t eat those!” He doesn’t like the smell of chocolate or strawberry jam. I looked around and you could see beach for a good quarter of a mile in both directions! “Can’t Luca move from the smell?” I wondered. I broached the subject but he said he was tired and he had nothing to sit on. And also that he wouldn’t eat his sandwich on the beach because last time he was harassed by a seagull! So our snack became a quick bite and then we needed to find shade away from the beach. By now moods were lowering and I was feeling disappointed. Why hadn’t I thought to bring 2 picnic blankets?
By the time we had walked to the top of the park that backs onto the beach and found some shade, the day was getting hot and the UV levels were getting higher. I was starting to feel the affects of the light spectrum in my nervous system, especially my hands and arms. Now I just wanted to get home. We had been out too long. We had walked a little too far. We had got a little too hot and there was a little too much visual clutter. We quickly found our escape route from Lyme – a pretty alley-way between cottages that leads nearly back to the carpark. On the way, I managed to share my disappointment and receive some solace from my trusty team. At the end of the alley-way, there was just one more hill to climb – the steep one we had so happily come down on our way into the town. This was one too many hills for my son.
Having made it back to the carpark, the car was nice and cool. It was 10:3o am. Lots of people were arriving for their day at the beach and we were glad to be going home from our hour at the beach! We started the drive home. My son said “That was good. It was a bit difficult but I think it was worth it!” That was all I needed to hear! I breathed a sigh of relief.
Living with CVI is one challenge after another. And just when you think you have completed all the trouble shooting you need to do, something changes. It could be the season, weather, or time of day all affecting how you perceive the colours, line, shape, edges and movement around you. In fact you have no constants. When you have ambient colour sensitivity, your only constant is change.
To read more about living with ambient colour sensitivity – a type of CVI – please take a look at my book.