The holiday season is a difficult time of year for Nicholas Pelc.
When most people see festive garlands and decked-out trees, Nicholas, 9, sees a muddled brown mess. The Smithtown boy is red-green colorblind and can’t perceive reds, greens, browns and colors with those tones in them.
But he was able to see the full spectrum of color — Christmas decorations included — for the first time Thursday when he put on his new pair of EnChroma color-correcting glasses.
Nicholas won the glasses in a contest hosted by Clorox and Berkeley, California-based EnChroma. They arrived Thursday morning and after he put them on he was transfixed by the family’s Christmas tree.
“Red. White. This is brown,” Nicholas said, pointing to different ornaments and garlands. “It looks much different.”
Outside, he marveled at his home’s brown shingles, green shrubs, red Santa flag sticking out a flower bed. Even the color of his jacket was a surprise — bright orange with Nautica in silver letters.
“I feel happy because I get to see the colors that other people get to see besides me,” Nicholas said. “It’s a lot different. I can’t really describe it.”
Nicholas’ mother, Stephanie, 41, said she and his father, Jonathan, 43, suspected Nicholas might be colorblind from a young age. Stephanie’s father is also red-green colorblind, giving Stephanie’s children a 50-50 chance of inheriting the condition.
“The preschool teacher said, ‘He’s having a lot of problems with his colors,’ ” Stephanie said. “I said, ‘Uh oh,’ and brought him to the doctor.”
Red-green colorblindness is the most common kind. It affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women, according to EnChroma.
About eight months ago, Jonathan Pelc was browsing online and saw videos of people trying on the EnChroma glasses. He came across a webpage for the Clorox and EnChroma contest, which offered to provide $20,000 worth of the glasses to 75 kids ages 5 through 14.
In his application video, Nicholas talks about his goal to become a banker. He has to stop and think for a minute when his father asks him what color money is, but has an answer ready when he’s asked what the future looks like: a robot that makes sandwiches.
“It was cute and funny and interesting,” said EnChroma spokesman Kent Streeb.
Streeb said Nicholas was one of four kids in New York selected out of the 200 video submissions. Another Long Island child also was selected in Wantagh, but needs prescription lens, which take longer to produce. The glasses normally retail for upward of $300.
For red-green colorblind people, red and green photoreceptors in the eyes overlap so significantly that the person can’t distinguish between the two colors — it all looks the same. The lens filters in the EnChroma glasses create separations between the light wavelengths, Streeb said, allowing the person’s eyes to see the difference between colors.
“There are children out there in school who can’t follow color-coded information in the classroom, that’s one of the reasons we’re interested in distributing to schoolchildren,” Streeb said.
Nicholas is a shy kid, and Stephanie worries about whether the effects of colorblindness in his early years, before he could read the labels on crayons and paints, have affected his confidence. There were kids that would tease him when he would color a Christmas tree brown or another color. He would describe darker skin colors in shades of green.
“He felt like he was different,” she said.
Nicholas nodded in agreement but said he is excited to show off his new glasses. He had no idea there were so many colors, and his parents are proud he can now see them.
“Some people think, ‘Ah you’re colorblind, it’s no big deal,’ but to a person that is colorblind, it’s kind of a big deal,” Stephanie said. “For a product to come out and to basically change the world for him, it’s amazing. It really is.”