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The Effects of Color on Autistic Children; Part IV: Ambiguous Colors

ambiguous colors

In parts one through three of this series, we explored the effects colors can have on our emotions and behaviors. We’ve learned that reds, yellows, and greys can all be potentially problematic for autistic children, and that blue, green, orange, and pink tones can provide emotional and psychological benefits. However, there are a few other colors to address that both have positive and negative attributes. Due to their many positive attributes, purples and violets, whites, and browns are worth exploring.

Purples and Violets

Purple is the color of a strong mind. It encourages introspection, meditation, and deep contemplation of philosophical and spiritual values. While cool and calming on emotions, purples and violets stimulate your higher thought processes, sense of intuition, and imagination. Violet has the shortest and fastest (least emotionally stimulating) wavelength. It is the last visible wavelength before the ultra-violet ray, and is rarely seen in nature. It is associated with time and space, the cosmos, the creative, and the supernatural. Purples open our minds up to possibilities beyond what we can physical see with our eyes. In the Chinese culture, purple is an auspicious color that represents respect. It represents high nobility, or a powerful, rich, and fortunate individual, and communicates the finest possible quality. According to Chroma Therapists, the color violet can help a person maintain a sense of “mind over matter” when dealing with chronic pain, and is used to treat the pain from neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia. As a personal favorite, deep purple, make me feel comfortable and inspired; however, in a large scale, on a wall for instance, it can be too much, too cool, overbearing, and depressive.


White is bright and can create a sense of space. It feels pure and clarifies the senses and the mind. The effect of white on an autistic child tends to be either very soothing, or extremely agitating. Color psychology suggests that mechanically minded children tend to respond better to white, than naturally artistic children. Another consideration is the level of visual sensitivity the child experiences. Bright white may not only be agitating to an autistic child who is very sensitive to light, but also painful. Slightly changing the intensity or switching white to tans will help with their comfort level. For example, changing the paper color from white to an off-white, or tan color while typing in a word processing program can help tremendous with eye fatigue and make you feel more comfortable looking at the screen. Both adults and children could also experience eye fatigue when they are in a room that has bright lights. These bright lights may also cause the onset of a migraine. This could really start to have an effect on your life, especially if you are around this every day. By deciding to install something like these fluorescent light filters, by somewhere like makegreatlight.com, could also help to reduce the chances of eye fatigue, as well as making you feel calmer whilst in a room; allowing for more concentration and engagement. This is also true for example when using e-readers, and electronic devices. Many of the devices allow for a change in the background and text colors. The right combination (eliminating that stark white background) can help with prolonged reading time and comprehension.


Brown is an earthy color, and can be as soothing as green if it is not too dark. It symbolizes depth, roots, and stability. Light shades of brown and tans represent a new and successful beginning. Red based browns are thought to be healing and invigorating but are not as intense as other stimulating colors like brown and orange. In Feng Shui, skin tones (browns) from light to dark are recommended bedrooms to lend the feelings of warm, intimacy, stability, and partnership. Browns can be helpful when needed to feel grounded. However, browns that are too dark, much like many other dark shades of color, can have an oppressive feel.

Colors affect everyone in one way or another; however, autistic children may be affected emotionally more acutely, or differently. A color that has a slight effect on you, red igniting strong feelings for instance, may have a profound or even painful impact on a person with autism. Since all children and adults with or without autism are different, and color meaning can be subjective from culture to culture, carefully observing your autistic child in different (colored) surroundings can give you insight into how they react to different colored stimuli. In Part V: Changing the Color Environment, we will explore specific color recommendations for the different rooms in your home.


Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.

One Comment:

  1. My 29 year old nephew, can become almost violent seeing the color purple. He has not diagnosised autistic, but have many systems of autism.
    Any help would be appreciated.

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