Information for Clinicians
Our funders, the European Research Council, have just awarded grant funding for us to provide a library of tests for clinicians to diagnose synaesthesia in your child or adult clients. The tests will be available by early 2022.
This guidance is designed to help clinicians understand more about synaesthesia and how it may link to other traits and conditions. The guidance in the following pages is suited to the following UK professionals (or their international equivalents):
- Educational and clinical psychologists
- CAMHS (Mental Health Support for Children)
- SEND-COs, Inclusion Managers, and equivalents (supporting children in schools)
- Support workers of children with autism
- Other professionals working with children
Learn about synaesthesia from a clinical context, and how to manage negative outcomes. The following topics are intended to give you an overview of what synaesthesia entails and how it may impact on a child’s cognitive, social and emotional outcomes.
Key information about synaesthesia for clinicians
We hope the following information on synesthesia will help you understand the condition more. Please click on a topic. You may also find out FAQs section useful. We are also happy to answer any further questions you may have by email (please visit www.syntoolkit.org/contact-us for further details).
What is synaesthesia?
Synaesthesia (American spelling synesthesia) is a rare condition that gives rise to a type of ‘merging of sensations’. For people with synesthesia (known as synaesthetes), one sense appears to merge, or cross with, another. Some synesthetes see colours when they hear music (known as Music-colour synaesthesia or Sound-colour synaesthesia), for example. Other synesthetes experience tastes in the mouth when they hear words (e.g., the word “house” might trigger the taste of toffee). And for other synaesthetes, letters, numbers or words feel coloured in some way (e.g., A might be red, Monday might be green). There are many different types of synaesthesia and other examples include seeing time mapped out in space (e.g., seeing the months of the year laid out in an oval shape), feeling touch in the hand when eating food, or hearing sounds when watching silent moving objects.
There are likely to be well over 100 different types of synaesthesia depending on the sensations involved, so there is no one test to diagnose all conditions. Synaesthetes can also differ in whether they experience their synaesthesia in their minds eye (associators) or projected out of the body (projectors). The most common forms of synesthesia elicit colours or shapes and are commonly triggered by sequences such as letters, digits or days of the week.
Is synaesthesia a condition?
Scientists describe ‘synaesthesia’ as a condition to reflect the fact that most people do not have synaesthesia. The term ‘condition’ also shows synaesthesia can sometimes impact negatively. However, the majority of people with synaesthesia are not affected in any negative way at all, and even enjoy their differences. Some people with synaesthesia dislike the term ‘condition’, because they worry it implies a need to ‘cure’ synaesthesia. But scientists who use the term do not wish to imply this at all – they are simply looking for a neutral term to capture the differences and the potential need for support. When no support is needed, we can think of synaesthesia as a ‘trait’. But here we use the term ‘condition’ because we aim to identify and support children with synaesthesia, in ways that might benefit them in their well-being and education.
Should synaesthesia be ‘cured’?
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that synaesthesia does not need to be ‘cured’. In the majority of cases synaesthesia poses no significant health risks and is usually seen as having either a neutral or positive effect on a person’s life. In most cases, synaesthetes do not stand out from other members of society in obvious ways - it is quite possible that you have acquaintances who are synaesthetic without realising it. But there are some instances where synaesthesia might cause problems, and clinicians should focus on managing the discomfort rather than ‘curing’ the synaesthesia. Please see the following section below called ‘How might synaesthesia impact a child’s education and wellbeing?’
The FAQs section has lots more useful information. Also there are a number of synesthesia organisations that have useful information:
More information about synesthesia can also be found at the following national Synesthesia Associations and Synesthesia Web Communities:
Australia and New Zealand: http://www.synesthesia.com.au