Learning Colors Differently.

My friend at Craving a Little Perspective (CLP) has taught me so much about the subject of synesthesia.  Recently, I posted about my son’s colorful meltdowns.  Color is very big at our house.  I simply do not have any personal experience with why colors have triggered meltdowns or what thought process could be behind it all.  After thinking about it, Miss CLP gave me a link.  The more that I read about it, the more I am becoming convinced that my son has some form of this very unusual neurological condition.  The colorful meltdowns are starting to make sense.

My friend at CLP directed me to Daniel Tammet.  Daniel is one of those rare persons known as a high functioning autistic savant.  Perhaps you have heard of him. There was a documentary about him called ‘Brainman’ (titled ‘The Boy With The Incredible Brain’ in the UK). It was filmed in 2004 and, in part, shows Daniel reciting the famous mathematical constant Pi from memory to 22,514 digits!  Can you imagine?  He also came to California and was studied by brain scientists because, unlike many savants, he can explain his thought processes.

Daniel learns differently from the rest of us and it has served him well.  Here  and below is the link to a talk he gave, and the way he learns, given to me by my friend at CLP:

From his talk, I focused on these couple of quotes:

I explore the nature of perception and how different kinds of perceiving create different kind of knowing and understanding.

My worlds of words and numbers blur with color, emotion and personality. As Juan said, it’s the condition that scientists call synesthesia, an unusual cross-talk between the senses. Here are the numbers one to 12 as I see them — every number with its own shape and character. One is a flash of white light. Six is a tiny and very sad black hole. The sketches are in black and white here, but in my mind they have colors. Three is green. Four is blue.  Five is yellow.

Out of curiosity, I made a game of it for my son.  I asked him what color each number from 1-10 was.  He was happy and excited.  Quickly and clearly told me the colors for 1-5 and 9-10.  He says that 6 and 7 are black and gray and eight varies from orange to red to black.  Because of the discrepancies when he discusses the numbers 6-8, I have not included them.   I checked his consistency with the colors of these numbers throughout the night – he was completely consistent.

one = purple

two= yellow

three = turquoise

four = blue

five = green

nine = red

ten = pink

Happy is red.  Sad is blue.  Even emotions have color.

Another website discussing synesthesia said this:

It’s like trying to describe color to someone who doesn’t see color,” says Thomas J. Palmieri, a Vanderbilt University psychologist and lead author of a study on WO that appears the March 19 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The condition, which is genetically transmitted, seems especially prevalent among highly talented and gifted persons. The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, who saw sounds as colors, even composed a symphony in 1910 that featured a colored light exhibit that he, no doubt, could see even without the lights. Other synesthetes, as they call themselves, include the poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud, painters Kandinsky and Klee, and the noted physicist Richard Feynman.

No one knows just how many people have the condition. Estimates range from one person out of every 300, to one out of every few thousand. The number is vague for obvious reasons. Some people learned early on not to talk about it out of fear of being regarded as odd. And those who have it tend to like it, so they don’t feel a need to seek out medical help.

[Quote from: Vision and Autism]

I am not saying my son is a savant.  I seriously doubt that.  Most savants manifest their gifts by age 6.  We don’t see that coming.  However, this does show that my son is learning in a way that is completely different from the way in which I learned.  This method of learning may make math problems easier.

It may also explain the reason he asks me what color everything is.  He knows the color he sees.  I’m starting to believe that is not the color he “sees” even though he knows it is the color that is there.

He will show me a blue car and ask what color it is.  When I say blue, he shouts out “red”!  like he is arguing the point.  If he is seeing blue but “seeing” red, this would explain his strong desire to disagree.  Until his communication skills improve, I will not know for sure.

Meanwhile, instead of discouraging him or finding he is a rebel without a cause reciting colors different than what is there, I will be patient and watch him in a different way while we sort our way through a possibility of synesthesia.

Thanks to my dear bloggy friend at Craving a Little Perspective.  You have given me great insight into possibilities with my son with just a couple clicks and a lot of warm-hearted thought.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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7 Responses to Learning Colors Differently.

  1. Amanda says:

    How exciting! I’ve heard about it before and I’ve always thought it must be a really cool gift to have.

  2. Blue says:

    Very interesting! One of my friends in college had a form of synesthesia, which most strongly showed itself in music-color associations for her. One of my favorite keepsakes from college is a mix-CD that she made me in “rainbow order”– a song she strongly associated with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, in order. It’s pretty awesome!

    • solodialogue says:

      The CD sounds like a lovely gift! The relation between color and music is an interesting form of synesthesia. I’m not sure exactly what is going on with my own son – it seems strongest with numbers right now but perhaps that’s because it is easiest for him to express it that way. Fascinating subject!

  3. Broot says:

    He might have the same problem with numbers 6 and 8 that I do with the letters J and K – there is no name for the colours I see, or they kind of shimmer with a couple of colours. The colour is consistent for me, but how I describe it changes. 😉

    The blue/red thing – the colour is blue but the word is coloured red, maybe? Kinda like those weird tests where they show you the names of the colour in a different colour. (the letters RED coloured blue, for example).

    I’m really glad it’s helping. And you’re right, if he’s consistent, then it’s synesthesia. 🙂

    (I had a giggle at “neurological condition” though – I personally prefer “neurological phenomenon” because we aren’t sick, and the syn isn’t something that needs to be fixed, per se. 😉 )

  4. solodialogue says:

    Sorry – “condition” to me does not mean sick – I will remember this in future! Thank you for everything on this subject. I have found him continuing in his consistency. When he yelled out “green” however at my WW meeting (see latest post) thinking back – I think he may have had a problem with the wall color in there. I just realized it’s kind of an orangish yellow… and we’ve never been anywhere else that has been painted that color!

  5. eof737 says:

    I saw a Danie video recently and was going to suggest you see it… Great minds think alike. It is all quite fascinating… 🙂
    I’ve been AWOL lately… just from exhaustion and the hectic pace of life. 🙂

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