Have you ever wondered what Synesthesia is like? Do you or someone you know associate colors or flavors with numbers or letters? If so, you may be a synesthete!
A few episodes ago Sheldon Cooper (the Big Bang Theory) accompanied Raj to work and offered to help him on a project, which involved scrolling through numbers for anomalies. When he quickly spotted one, Sheldon commented that he connects colors to numbers, as well as the sense of smell. While this threw Raj for a loop and drew a reaction from the audience, personally, I threw my hand up in the air, yelling, “YAASSS!”
For years, my family has loved this series and the character Dr. Sheldon Cooper, who has brought to life much of what we have experienced living with a mini Dr. Sheldon Cooper under our roof. This night’s episode was no different, and addressed something not very well known to the world, but rather real to us: synesthesia.
First, a backstory of my own. For years, my extended family and I have enjoyed talking about this phenomenon. It’s been quite the subject at family gatherings, and it goes something like this.
Me, “What color is the number 2?”
Family member #1, “It’s red.”
Me, “For me, it’s blue.”
“How about the letter ‘A’,” asks my daughter.
“For me it depends on whether or not it is upper or lower case,” answers Family member #2.
Family members numbers 3, 4 and 5 look at us like we are playing a joke on them. We assure them, we are not. And the game continues.
Several years ago when we began this “party game” of sorts (sharing how our senses overlap, affecting how we recall and see things, such as numbers, letters, and more), we did not realize it had a name. Nor did we realize how few people see the world this way. According to experts on the subject, Richard Cytowic and David Eagleman, it is 1:20. In fact, it was upon watching his recent PSB series, The Brain, we discovered that this experience we were having actually has a name. And the rest of our family finally realized it wasn’t a joke. This clip from PBS does an excellent job introducing one to it.
So, how can understanding synesthesia help you as a parent? Here are a few things to consider.
Understand if you, your partner or your child(ren) have synesthesia. (If none of you do, the rest may not apply.)
If you, your partner and/or your child has it, do understand that synesthesia takes on many forms and varies wildly from person to person. It could be associating letters with colors, others would say colors have certain scents or flavors, voices may have a certain scent, texture or taste, and music may be something you can actually see, etc.
Personally, I definitely believe there are ways to use this “superpower” if your child is struggling with organizational skills. For example, I have written about the method my daughter uses for school. Each subject is a certain color to her. When organizing her supplies for school, she chooses notebooks, etc., reflecting that color for each class. Even in college, she continues to utilize this method. (To be true, many schools assign colored folders and binders for classes, so be prepared if your synesthete balks if math is assigned “purple” when it is “green,” etc.) In other words, if your child is a synesthete, try to incorporate how s/he sees the world while helping your child with day to day skill building.
On the other hand, if they do not have it, but you do, understand that you each have unique ways of perceiving the world, and the way they process information may vary quite greatly than you do. That’s ok. In fact, for older children, this could be a very interesting topic for your next dinner conversation.
Synesthesia is an absolutely fascinating realm of study. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with it! Or questions about it. Definitely feel free to ask me questions in the comments, or tweet me @_JulieClark_.
Julie – a synesthete
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