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Autistic People are more likely to have Synesthesia

Update Date: Nov 20, 2013 08:50 AM EST

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which people's senses are mixed up. For example, when people with this condition hear sounds, they might also see colors. In a new study conducted by scientists from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, researchers found that synesthesia appears to be more common in people with autism, which is a developmental disorder that is characterized by a lack of social and communication skills.

For this study, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from the Autism Research Center at the University headed the research team. The team recruited 164 autistic adults and 97 adults without the condition. The researchers screened the participants for synesthesia. They found that 31 of the autistic adults had synesthesia with overlapping conditions. 18 of them saw black and white letters in color, 21 of them stated they saw colors after hearing a sound and 18 of them stated that they visualized color after experiencing different tastes, pains or smells. Overall, the researchers found that synesthesia affected 18.9 percent of the autistic group and 7.2 percent of the non-autistic group.

"People with autism report high levels of sensory hyper-sensitivity. This new study goes one step further in identifying synesthesia as a sensory issue that has been overlooked in this population. This has major implications for educators and clinicians designing autism-friendly learning environments," Donielle Johnson, who was a part of the study, said according to Medical Xpress.

Baron-Cohen added, "I have studied both autism and synesthesia for over 25 years and I had assumed that one had nothing to do with the other. These findings will re-focus research to examine common factors that drive brain development in these traditionally very separate conditions. An example is the mechanism 'apoptosis,' the natural pruning that occurs in early development, where we are programmed to lose many of our infant neural connections. In both autism and synesthesia apoptosis may not occur at the same rate, so that these connections are retained beyond infancy."

The study was published in Molecular Autism.

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