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

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

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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.

Affiliations: 1: 1School of Psychology, Pevensey Building, University of Sussex, BN1 9QJ, UK ; 2: 2Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, 7 George Square, EH8 9JZ, UK ; 3: 3Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18B Trumpington Road, Cambridge CB2 8AH, UK ; 4: 4Agnesian HealthCare, 430 East Division Street, Fond du Lac, WI 54935, USA

*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: james.hughes@sussex.ac.uk

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.

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2017-05-30
2017-08-19

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