Synesthesia, autism linked

Shortly after we published our cover story on the phenomenon of synesthesia (Fall/Winter 2013), researchers from Cambridge University published new research in the journal Molecular Autism suggesting that synesthesia is more common among individuals with autism than in the general population.

The study found that synesthesia, the mixing of senses such as when sounds have tastes or letters invoke colors, occurs in 18.9 percent of those with autism, while only 7.2 percent of all people.

The researchers suggested that may be because both conditions could be caused by an over-connectivity of neurons in the brain.

“I have studied both autism and synesthesia for over 25 years and I had assumed that one had nothing do with the other,” said Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor at the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University and lead author of the study. “These findings will re-focus research to examine common factors that drive brain development in these traditionally very separate conditions.”

— Markian Hawryluk