Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Colour my world

I always thought I knew Lesley-Anne inside out but the day before her 18th birthday, she shared with me something about herself that caused a little explosion in my head. She told me she had synesthesia.

You're probably thinking, "Syne-what??" I know, I said the same thing.

Background: since Lesley-Anne was very young (maybe about 6 or 7), she has told me that she sees letters and numbers in colour. Because it was always mentioned in passing, I'd never taken it seriously. I've even told her I feel the same as I do think that an 'A' looks better in red than in yellow, for example. However, I didn't know that in her case, it was almost literal - she sees specific letters in specific colours in her mind.

Just to clarify, it's not a case of mistaking colours. When she reads a book, she knows it's black print on white paper. However, she occasionally gets flashes of a word in colour and if she pictures a letter or word in her head, it's in colour. And the colours (with their specific shades) she associates with those letters are unchanging over time eg. 'A' and 'M' are always red, 'D' is green. I told her to type out for me the letters in the actual colours she sees in her head, and here they are:


Lower case letters are one shade lighter than their capitalised companions.

However, she sees the individual colours only for letters. Words work a little differently because when we read, we process words, not individual letters. So when she sees a word, the colour tends to be the one most prominent in the word or the first letter of the word, especially if it's capitalised. Eg Mummy has three 'M's so it appears red to her.

But what was astonishing to me (and Lesley-Anne) was that she never realised that it was an actual neurological condition with a name. She thought everyone else experienced the same thing, partly because I had been nonchalant about it. Trying to justify my reaction now, I told her, "well, would you have preferred growing up thinking you were abnormal?" Although throughout the conversation when she was explaining to me what she experienced, I told her she was weird several times. Making up for lost time.

How she found out was that she casually mentioned it to a classmate. Her classmate told her, "You see what? Oh, it's called synesthesia!" (She was stunned that her friend knew this and her friend was equally stunned that Lesley-Anne didn't.) So apparently, there are many kinds of synesthesia, which is a neurological phenomenon where the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an involuntary experience in another pathway. Some people see colours when they hear certain sounds, others associate them with specific tastes. You can read some of the theories of how synesthesia develops here. Lesley-Anne has grapheme-colour synesthesia, which is one of the more common forms of synesthesia - associating colours with letters and numbers. I found an interesting first person account of how synesthesia helped him with spelling here.

Incidentally, the colour she associates with each letter would be different from someone else with synesthesia. That's why when she sees signs where each letter in a word is coloured differently, that bugs her because the shades would not be the same colours she associates the letters with. It's kinda like imposing your synesthesia on others. If you suspect you might have synesthesia, here's a free online test you can take.

Anyway, that's how I discovered something completely new about my daughter, just before her 18th birthday. And coincidentally, since we're on the topic of colours, this was one of the gifts Kenneth and I got her this year:

Adult colouring books are all the rage now and we thought it would be a great gift for her to de-stress, since she's under so much pressure this year. There are many such books in the market, we chose this one - Color Me Happy. It's really great value. You get 100 intricate pictures to colour in and the pages are made from thick, quality paper to minimise bleeding if you use markers.

Lesley-Anne tried out a page and she loved it. She said it was very therapeutic. It does make me happy just looking at the vibrant shades. (Tip: you can get a set of 30 markers for just $2 at Daiso!)

So my baby girl is now 18. She can now legally drink and drive (separately, not together), not that she's inclined to do either. "I got EZ-link card, no need to drive!" she declared. When Kenneth offered her a sip of shandy ("only 0.5% alcohol!"), she made a face and declined. She really is a guai kia.

Happy birthday, Lesley-Anne! May God release rainbow hues of blessings on you and may your life always be colourful


Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,

Good day to you.
Where did you get the coloring book from?
I am interested to get one for myself :)


monlim said...

Michelle: You can get it from bookdepository.com :)

Grace said...

Happy birthday, Lesley-Anne!

There's this book about synesthesia called A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. It's probably way below Lesley-Anne's reading level but it might still be a fun read.

monlim said...

Grace: That sounds interesting! Thanks, will check it out :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...