Research

Molecular Autism

, 4:40

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Is synaesthesia more common in autism?

  • Simon Baron-CohenAffiliated withAutism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge
  • , Donielle JohnsonAffiliated withAutism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge Email author 
  • , Julian AsherAffiliated withAutism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge
  • , Sally WheelwrightAffiliated withAutism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge
  • , Simon E FisherAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for PsycholinguisticsDonders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen
  • , Peter K GregersenAffiliated withRobert S. Boas Center for Genomics and Human Genetics, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, North Shore-LIJ
  • , Carrie AllisonAffiliated withAutism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge

Abstract

Background

Synaesthesia is a neurodevelopmental condition in which a sensation in one modality triggers a perception in a second modality. Autism (shorthand for Autism Spectrum Conditions) is a neurodevelopmental condition involving social-communication disability alongside resistance to change and unusually narrow interests or activities. Whilst on the surface they appear distinct, they have been suggested to share common atypical neural connectivity.

Methods

In the present study, we carried out the first prevalence study of synaesthesia in autism to formally test whether these conditions are independent. After exclusions, 164 adults with autism and 97 controls completed a synaesthesia questionnaire, Autism Spectrum Quotient, and Test of Genuineness-Revised (ToG-R) online.

Results

The rate of synaesthesia in adults with autism was 18.9% (31 out of 164), almost three times greater than in controls (7.22%, 7 out of 97, P <0.05). ToG-R proved unsuitable for synaesthetes with autism.

Conclusions

The significant increase in synaesthesia prevalence in autism suggests that the two conditions may share some common underlying mechanisms. Future research is needed to develop more feasible validation methods of synaesthesia in autism.