This is a story about a boy–to protect his rights; we’ll call him Tommy. Tommy has a rare form of autism called Fragile X. This has had an impact on his life in a variety of ways, the biggest being on his emotions. Tommy could express each emotion within a matter of minutes, jumping from one to the next depending on his surroundings and mood. That all changed the day his room needed painting, and this is why Tommy chose green.
I had met Tommy about two years prior, working with him throughout each week to improve his social and personal skills. It became clear he was a very smart boy, but the way he processed each emotion was much more dramatic than the average person. Autism can make it difficult to regulate emotions, causing the individual to work that much harder to process them. So I started to do some research.
There are numerous ways to help someone identify their emotions. Tommy could easily discern happy from sad, but my goal was to help transition from each emotion more smoothly. There are picture cards, “I Feel–Because” statements, soothing music. We tried everything. Finally, I came across something called chromotherapy.
Chromotherapy, or color therapy, uses lights and colors to help regulate and balance moods. Different colors stimulate different moods, whether we are aware of it or not. Take hospitals, for example. Most utilize the colors of blue or green to help promote peace and tranquility.
The next week, Tommy’s mother happened to be thinking about painting his room.
At the time, Tommy had a light shade of gray on the walls. He liked spending time in his room. A large part of my job was to get him out of his room and into the community, which proved to be difficult since this was a space he felt safe in–it also had his computer in it which would be used from sun-up to sun-down if he could. Tommy would watch the same videos on his computer, over and over again. I quickly learned all of this time spent in that room had more adverse effects than initially thought.
Grey is a color that can cause depression. Its neutral coloring can give off a bleak or sad feeling, making one’s mood somewhat dampened. Of course, Tommy is much more affected by these factors than most people. All of that time spent in his room was causing him to have a form of depression. This depression was halting an already delayed process in emotional development.
Adding Some Color
I spoke with Tommy and his mother about introducing some new colors into his room. We researched the properties of red, blue, purple, green, brown–showing each to Tommy and gauging his reaction to them. The results were fascinating.
Red is the color of passion. It is also the color of rage. It can be an excellent color to introduce into a bedroom or dining room if done in the right way. If done in excess or in the wrong space it can have very adverse effects.
Each color we had to show was a large circle printed on separate pieces of paper.
Tommy immediately discarded the red. This piece of paper was shredded and tossed into the trash after being showed to him.
We progressed to orange. This didn’t receive such a negative response though it was pushed to the side. We asked Tommy how orange made him feel. He said that color belonged on the beach.
Next we tried yellow. This got mixed emotions from Tommy. He peered at the picture for several minutes but began to shift around in his seat after a bit. He said the color was beautiful, but his tone didn’t match his words. I asked what was wrong, and he replied that the color was gorgeous, but too bright for him.
The Tranquility of Green
There were a few others that we tried, each getting a different response from him. Next came green. I was saving that color for last, as it was what I thought may work best for his room. Tommy grabbed the picture from the stack before I could offer it. I asked what he thought, and he just continued to stare at it much like with the yellow image. This time, he did not shift around or appear anxious.
After a few minutes, Tommy said, “This is the one. I like this color.” His mother and I showed him a few other colors again, but he still came back to this one. It took some probing, but he finally admitted that the tone made him feel comfortable.
That it reminded him of laying in the grass.
A week later, Tommy’s room went from a depressing gray to a calming green. It has been two years now. His attitude has improved dramatically, and he is in more control of his emotions.
A person’s settings can quickly determine a mood, much more so in this case. Tommy will always love sitting in his room in front of his computer. Changing the color of those four walls has introduced a passive, yet effective, form of therapy into his life. Just one day of painting has helped maintain a positive balance and improve emotional development. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, this is why Tommy chose the color green.