Monthly Archives: February 2015

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THAT dress and Autism Perception

There is a dress that seems to have taken over the internet.

One person sees the dress and says with certainty “It’s blue and black.”

Another person looking at exactly the same dress at the same time says ‘It’s white and gold.”

People cannot figure it out.

Can their perceptions of colour be THAT different?

Have they learnt colour language differently?


When one of my staff returned from their break talking about THAT dress it made me think – ‘What a great way to explain autism and perception.’


The child with autism is continually living in a reality where they see ‘Gold and White’, but everyone around them sees ‘Black and Blue’.


People are having big conversations trying to figure out THAT dress. The child with autism might not know they are seeing differently. They might not be able to communicate how they see and feel.


The school lunch hall


White and Gold


Most children will walk into the lunch hall without thinking about it too much. They go and get their school dinner or packed lunch. They sit down. They eat. They are hungry and welcome this social time.


But the child with autism may see the school canine differently. Let’s think about what their ‘blue black’ perceptions could be like.


  • Imagine if the food smells were sickening. Think about your worst, worst smell and intensify it by a zillion.


  • Imagine if you felt pure terror at the idea of having to eat unfamiliar foods. Think about your worst food whizzed to a lumpy consistency (either too hot or too cold).


  • Imagine strobe lighting, which flickers nightmare style and makes your eyes and head ache.


  • Imagine your worst sound – nails down a black board, a hundred babies crying. Turn the volume up so that it vibrates inside your head and know that it is going to be constant.


  • Imagine knowing that everyone around you will be talking and talking. They’ll be talking at you and expecting answers when you just want to bury your head to get away from all the other sensory overloads. But you know that is not ‘socially appropriate’.



Blue and Black


The other thing about THAT dress is that people can return to it and see the other view. Maybe they had thought they perceived colour differently. It is confusing to return and see the other perspective. The ‘White and Gold’ is now ‘Black and Blue’.


Another day the school lunch hall may seem okay to the child with autism.

No one can reason why.

The child recalls the ‘white and gold’ day, but as it is ‘blue and black’ they can cope.


Why THAT dress makes me hopeful


THAT dress has got people talking about perception.

THAT dress got people seeing that things could look completely different to different people at different times.

THAT dress showed them that there is not always a right or wrong answer, that perception is about personal experience.


Maybe THAT dress would be a good way to explain the sensory overload and the behaviours that the casual passer by sometimes sees and judges. It’s not that the child, who is having a meltdown, has bad behaviour. They are seeing and sensing differently which is causing anxiety and real pain.


THAT dress made me hopeful because stopping to think about perception could lead to more empathy and understanding for people with autism.