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Is Synaesthesia More Prevalent in Autism Spectrum Conditions? Only Where There Is Prodigious Talent

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Hughes, JEA 
Simner, J 
Treffert, DA 
Ward, J 


Savant syndrome is a condition where prodigious talent co-occurs with developmental difficulties such as autism spectrum conditions (ASC). To better understand savant skills, we previously proposed a link with synaesthesia: that savant syndrome may arise in ASC individuals who also happen to have synaesthesia. A second, unrelated claim is that people with autism may have higher rates of synaesthesia. Here we ask whether synaesthesia is indeed found more often in autism per se, or only in cases where autism co-occurs with savant skills. People with autism in previous studies when tested for synaesthesia were not differentiated into those with and without savant abilities. Here we tested three groups: people with autism who also have savant skills (n=40), people with autism without savant skills (n=34), and controls without autism (n=29). We used a validated test to diagnose grapheme–colour synaesthesia. Results show a significantly higher prevalence of synaesthesia in people with ASC, but only those who also have savant skills. This suggests that synaesthesia in autism is linked to those with savant abilities rather than autism per se. We discuss the role of synaesthesia in the development of prodigious talent.



Synaesthesia, autism, perception, savant syndrome, sensory, talent

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Multisensory research

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Autism Research Trust (unknown)
Medical Research Council (G0600977)
Department of Health (via National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)) (NF-SI-0515-10097)
JEAH, JS and JW were supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC ( grant ES/K006215/1]. SBC was supported by the MRC and the Autism Research Trust during the period of this work.