Study reveals link between autism and synaesthesia

Researchers from Cambridge University led by Professor of Developmental Psychopathology Simon Baron-Cohen have found a link between the condition Synaesthesia to autism.

Synaesthesia is a condition which present in individuals causing them to taste or see colours when presented with a specific word. A person with synaesthesia could see a colour for a specific place name, or that the letter “y” was blue, as an example.

The study suggests that the condition is up to three times more prevalent in individuals with autism than their contemporaries.

A tenacious link was investigated by the researchers who took 263 participants, 164 diagnosed with high functioning autism and Aspergers, and 97 members of the general public.

They were asked to complete a questionnaire to measure their autistic and synaesthesia traits. It revealed that one in five  of the individuals with a diagnosis also had Synaesthesia compared to one in seven of the control group.

Dr Baron-Cohen, who gave an interview to the BBC said:

“Synaesthesia involves a mixing of the senses and it’s a very subjective private experience, so the only way we know it’s happening is if you ask people to report on their experiences.

“And what this new study has done is ask people whether they experience synaesthesia, for example where a sound triggers the experience of colour or a taste triggers the experience of colour, and finding that these unusual experiences are actually much more common in autism than we previously knew.”

The research is open access and is published in the journal of Molecular Autism.

Both conditions involve hyper connectivity, or a flood of information passed through neurons to the brain.

Director of the National Society of Autism UK, Carol Povey, told Autism Daily Newscast:

“This is a very interesting study that could help improve our understanding of autism.

“People with the condition can find everyday life confusing or even frightening so research like this, which helps us to understand more about how they experience the world, is valuable. It can help us to develop more appropriate support and to make adjustments according to their needs which is vital if people with autism are to reach their full potential.

“With the right support at the right time people with autism can live the life they choose.”