Questions about Synesthesia

Here’s some Q&A that I get when people find out I have synesthesia:

Q. What is synesthesia?

A.  It is a neurological phenomenon where senses somehow become connected (literally, “joining the senses”). The form I have is grapheme synesthesia, where letters, numbers and sometimes symbols (graphemes!) appear coloured when I see them, and when I hear them.  Other people with synesthesia (synesthetes) might combine colour with music, taste with shapes, and other mixed senses. I think I combine colour with other things as well but it doesn’t count as synesthesia unless the colours are always the same, so I’m in the process of deciphering that.

Q. How did you “catch” it?

A. I didn’t “catch” it. I’ve probably always had it or something similar. It is neurological and as far back as I can remember, it has been there.

Q. So the letters on this page aren’t black?

A. Yes, of course they’re black.  I can see the black. My colours are kinda “behind” the black. It’s more like the letters glow, or that the spaces within the letter contain the colour. It’s an impression of colour, rather than physically seeing the colour.  I can only see the colour inside my brain. There’s nothing wrong with my eyes. (Well, besides the usual myopic astigmatism, anyways.)

Q. So what colour is my name?

I’m happy to answer this individually. You can try and trip me up, but unless your name starts with a K or J it will always be the same. I have a lot of trouble describing the colours I have assigned to K or J so sometimes I will use a different colour to describe it, even though to me the colour is always the same.

Q. What does it mean, that my name is (insert colour here).

A. Absolutely nothing.  There’s nothing new age about my grapheme colour assignment and your name. As a matter of fact, if you find another synesthete and ask him/her what colour your name is, you will probably get an entirely different answer.  It appears that no two synesthetes will assign colour in the same way.

Q. Does having grapheme synesthesia improve your math/memory/writing?

A. Other synesthetes might see improvement, but for me, decidedly not on most fronts. It doesn’t help me at all. In fact, it makes my math worse because my 3s and 8s are nearly the same colour so I sometimes get them mixed up.  I also can’t trust my word/name memory (see my post Caster, Coaster, whatever) because words and names can have the same colour and be completely different. However, my synesthesia does help with my phone number, license plate, and general number recall. And it does seem to help with my spelling.

Q. Did you pick your children’s names based on your synesthesia?

A. Yes. If I didn’t like the colour of the name, it wasn’t on our list. And if the name didn’t go nicely with the colours in our last name, it didn’t get picked, either.  My daughter’s name is a lovely red and blue and my son’s name is white.

Q. Do your children have synesthesia?

A. Not as far as I can tell. They look at me funny if I mention it.

Q. How did you find out you have synesthesia?

A. I was twelve when a program was on TV about a man who could taste shapes. Even though it was different to my synesthesia, my brain clicked. I knew that was exactly what I was experiencing. From then, I looked it up in the library. However, my friends and family didn’t know I am a synesthete until I was in my twenties. I had learned long before then that nobody else in the family had it and they’d consider it extremely weird.  Now there are communities online where us synesthetes can discuss our similarities and differences. Like Mixed Signals.

Q. Can you post your colour chart for me?

A. No. I’ve tried it several times on a computer and can’t get the colours right. I think I’d need a package of Laurentien Pencil Crayons to get most of them (I did do the colour chart using those, once.) and it’s made difficult by the nature of a couple of the colours that shimmer, take on the colour of the next closest coloured letter, or aren’t a recognised colour (ie, there’s no name for it).

And on that note, even though I can look at black letters and other random coloured letters, I can’t abide looking at other synesthete’s colour charts. They drive me batty because they are wrong!

That’s the end of my Q&As.  I’m happy to answer any other questions you have, too. 🙂

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About Broot

Thoughts about learning and life that are lost in a sea of blogs.

56 responses to “Questions about Synesthesia”

  1. solodialogue says :

    What a fascinating post! I remember reading about your synesthesia when you posted about your first name starting with the color yellow. I had to look that word up but did not think about it in depth until you posted here. It’s a very different way to look at things by combining senses like that.

    Can you tell me what color you see in my name (very curious since it begins with K)!

  2. Blond Duck says :

    Popped in from SITS! I’m sure it’s frustrating to live with, but it sounds so frustrating. Are you an artist?

  3. Adrienne says :

    This is absolutley fasinating! I’ve never heard of this. That sounds incredible! Thanks for stopping by on my special day. 🙂

  4. Jenn @ You know...that Blog? says :

    So now of course you need to tell me what colour my name is 😉 You knew that’d be what most people ask you!

    I love how you describe this phenomenon. It makes sense to me. Probably because I think in terms of pictures, and often switch things that “look” the same picture-wise (in my head, not visually) when I’m speaking.

    • Broot says :

      Your name is red-brown ish but it’s more of a “dirty” red if you know what I mean. Sometimes it looks nearly pinkish, but with a dark colour washed across it. The way I describe it, it doesn’t sound very nice but actually it’s a very pleasing colour. 🙂

      I’m glad I’m making sense. Sometimes it’s hard to describe what’s going on. 🙂

  5. Kim says :

    Great article! I too have color-grapheme synesthesia. Years ago out of the blue I said to my cousin, “Your name (Josh) is yellow”. Everyone looked at me strange. It was very frustrating to try to put into words. Then about 10 years ago I had the TV on, not really paying attention to it and a repeat of that old show “Sightings” cam on. I was in another room but could hear them talking about seeing colored letters and numbers. I felt so relieved to finally be able to make sense out of it!

  6. Kim says :

    So, are any of your numbers/letters colorless? O, Q and 0 have no color for me.

  7. Kim says :

    That’s cool; almost the same.

    Also, I think I know what you mean when you say you have a hard time deciding which color a couple of your letters are. For me S is hard to describe. It’s deep and rich but its color is hard to discern for sure. Best way to describe it is almost a blackish purple, but even so I’m still not for sure. I’m not for certain what B is either. It’s not colorless, but I can’t see a distinctive color.

    Yellow is definitely my most prominent color. T, L, Y, I, J, L, Z, X, V, 1 and 7 are all yellow.

    I guess R is the only letter that changes colors from a capital letter to lower case. It’s brown as a capital and orange as a lower case.

    • Broot says :

      Cool. A is another one I have trouble describing. Glad to know I’m not the only one with trouble describing some colours!

      I don’t have any that change colour depending on capitalisation though!

      • Kitty says :

        Is half-synesthesia (sorry if I spelt is wrong!) possible? Or something like that? Or is what I have real synesthesia? I see a pattern of color in the air around me when I hear a certain sound. It is the same pattern and the same color(s) every time, but not EVERY time I hear the sound. For example, when I was younger, my teachers voice caused me to see a pattern of pinkish-purple and lime green squares in the air. It would happen (for example) during circle time in the morning, but not later, when my teacher was explaining something to me. This isn’t the only sound that has similar effects on me. My letters, numbers, days of the week, months of the year, and names of people have color to me. Unlike before, I don’t see them, just know that they are there. My numbers also have personalities.I didn’t know about synesthesia until I read a book where the main character had it and I wanted to know more, it sounded so familiar! Also, sometimes, when I think of something, or smell something, I can taste something. I don’t know what to think of all this!

      • Broot says :

        Sounds like real synesthesia to me! check out mixsig.net they have lots of information and a forum there where you can ask questions. Helpful lot!

  8. eof737 says :

    What a fascinating subject. I’m glad I stopped by today as I’ve never heard of this condition. Honestly, it sounds to me like you live in a truly psychedelic world filled with amazing colors… 🙂
    Thanks for the education!
    Elizabeth

    • Broot says :

      Aw bummer, it’s not as cool as all that. Although for synesthetes that “see” music or “taste” shapes it might be!! Glad you liked it!

  9. Mommylebron says :

    Wow! I have never heard of this before! It’s a very interesting phenomenon and I love that you explained it so clearly.

  10. solodialogue says :

    I’ve come back here because my bloggy friend Spectrummy Mummy posted about her curiousity over synesthesia and, of course, I thought of you! So I gave her the link here and am providing you with the link there! Here it is: http://bit.ly/mNDBWs

  11. Joanne says :

    I have heard of this before and when I first heard it, I thought of my assigning an oval shape to the calender year with every month occuring at a different place along the oval, but always the same place for each month. I just thought that everybody did this sort of thing in their heads to remember or order or make sense of their world. I was surprised to find out that other people thought it was odd that I thought that way. So I guess I’m one too.

  12. Leslie says :

    synesthesia = superpower
    ‘Nuff said!

  13. Gianna says :

    That is so COOL! I am so incredibly intrigued!
    I’m popping over from SITS, but that doesn’t matter so much as what you are saying is so fascinating!

  14. Kelly Deneen says :

    That is amazing! I have never heard of this particular phenomenon before.
    I am curious whether you enjoy reading or not? I imagine it could be somewhat overwhelming. But beautiful!

  15. Lisa says :

    This is interesting…My mom says she sees glowing halo’s around her printed letters and numbers.

    • Broot says :

      Yes, that’s the same thing – there’s many different ways of seeing the colour around the numbers, but it’s still synesthesia!!

  16. Belle Delos Reyes says :

    Its the first time I have heard of synesthesia. Interesting! Thanks for sharing
    🙂

  17. Eternal*Voyageur (Venusian*Glow) says :

    Lol about other’s charts being wrong! Idid wonder about that.

  18. jesterqueen1 says :

    For me, it’s taste/smell and color. And it’s really hard because some awful things smell purple to me. I LOVE purple when I SEE it. But when I smell it, like when the toilet’s clogged and the whole room is all purple, I hate it. And I’m known for blurting things out, too. I remember an awful stale strawberry shortcake my grandmother tried to feed me when I was five. I said, “Ugh. This whole dessert tastes brown.” And she, agreeing with me about the taste said, “No, it tastes horrible orange. Let’s throw it out.”

    And because I have the kind of family that rolls with the punches, Mom and Poppa, who also thought it was awful, didn’t try to sort out the colors.

  19. jesterqueen1 says :

    PS
    I’m curious, because I’m a “J” – what color is my name?

    • Broot says :

      The one you signed in with? Jesterqueen? It’s a reddish-green. 🙂 But when I say red-ish, I mean a kinda pinky-red bordering on maroon. LOL!!

  20. Meredith says :

    This is very interesting. I’m wondering if you have ever seen the colored sheets that are sometimes used for kids with autism, ADHD, or learning disabilities? I wondered if that makes any difference in reading ease…OR, is there a particular color that makes it easier to read or see numbers?

    • Broot says :

      I personally prefer black letters/numbers because then it doesn’t interfere with my colours. But the colours are there, regardless. I haven’t seen the coloured sheets for kids with autism, no.

  21. Margaret Almon says :

    I love the word “synesthete”! I just finished a commission to make a mosaic of the word “music” for the daughter of friends of mine who hears music in color. She loved it. I would’ve been more apprehensive if I’d known that she might have a color for the actual word music, and might not have meshed with what I chose!

    • Broot says :

      Grapheme synesthesia isn’t the same as music/colour synesthesia. If she sees colour when she hears music then it doesn’t naturally follow that she sees colour when she sees the word music. Sometimes I wish I was a music/colour synesthete!!!

  22. Standing for Something says :

    That is cool and kinda crazy! I’ve never heard of it before. I’d love to learn more about the neurological side of it…..Thanks for sharing. Very insightful.

    • Broot says :

      I wish I could tell you more about the neurological side of it – but alas, I don’t know much more than my experience and what I’ve read. There is a lot of information on the internet, though!!

  23. MARIE COLE says :

    Wow, that was a fascinating read…What a cool gift you have. 🙂

  24. Venus says :

    Thanks so much for sharing! I find all of this very very interesting. I love learning about the different ways in which our brains work. I find myself being envious of the experience… but I imagine that it has its challenges and isn’t fun all the time. Still, I wish there was a way I could see as you do just for a time, to know what it’s like.

  25. Ashtyn says :

    Hi, I read a book about synesthesia and I was extremely interested by the condition itself and
    The people who have it. I hate to bother you, I can only imagine how many times you are asked this but, I was wondering what color my name is? I’ve just been extremely curious to know this. My name is Ashtyn. Thank you 🙂

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