The Genesis of A Palette.

An update to my last post, about the discovery of my children’s Grapheme-Color Synesthesia…it probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t read that post first.

A couple of nights ago as I was lying in bed, I finally remembered what app Noah had played most when he was learning his letters – Starfall. I wanted to get up right then and check out what color the letters were, but I was also half asleep and dreaming of blue and pink Bs.

The next morning, I pulled it up.

This is the first screen of the app – you can tap on each letter, and it takes you through different learning screens that are unique to each letter, but the color of the letter stays the same as the front screen throughout the program.

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I went and grabbed the chart he’d made the day before and began counting matches on my fingers.

Noah Synesthesia Chart

A – match. B – match. C – match. D – match. E – match. F – match. G – match. H was the first letter that didn’t match exactly to what Noah had mapped out. I abandoned the plan of counting the matches and just started counting the non-matches on my fingers.

Then, because I’m the geek that is totally overanalyzing my child for fun and amusement, I made a spreadsheet.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 4.41.14 PMGreen = exact match; blue = near match, red = no match.

17 out of 26 letters matched exactly. 21 out of 26 letters matched or near-matched. And if you count purple/red a near-match, 24 out of 26 matched.

This was no coincidence. I had found the origins of his letter palette.

I do not think the app could have caused his brain to attach so specifically to associating color and letters (and certainly not numbers, since this app didn’t teach numbers – I haven’t yet remembered what app he used early on with numbers) – I think the synesthesia is caused by something specifically about his brain (studies have shown that synesthetes have more gray matter in their brains – ironic, huh?) – but I do think that this app provided him the basis of his color beliefs.

His Color Theology, if you will.

Noah came in the room and looked over my shoulder while I was “playing” on his iPad. Without hesitation, he listed off the letters that didn’t match. Or, in his words, that “they got wrong.”

“R is wrong. It should be purple. They have H as blue but it’s red. M should be brown. L should be green. X should be red.”

I don’t know why I spent all that time comparing and counting and spreadsheeting when he could’ve told me the differences in five seconds, but it was another realization in how quickly his brain picks up on those patterns as compared to mine.

I continued my exploration of the app to try and get clarity on the two letters that are two colors – B (blue and pink) and F (purple and blue.)

The B in the app is blue, but when you click it, it flashes to red.

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Or is that a reddish-pink?

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The F – “blue and purple” – was much more obvious. The letter is purple, and the background on every screen is blue.

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As far as E (he had told me “the uppercase is yellow, but the lowercase is orange”), the letter was written on a yellow background…and the letters on the Exit and Enter sign are yellow…it was close enough for me.

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I triumphantly cheered the app, treasuring it as if it were my own personal Rosetta Stone in understanding my seriously weird kid.

Note: I do think Ali has synesthesia as well, but not nearly to the extreme of Noah’s – and she’s also not as resolute in her determination of CORRECT colors. He is absolutely convinced that the colors are right or wrong – there is no room for error.

Unearthing a More Colorful Brain.

“1 is red – right, mom?”

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This matter-of-fact question Noah asked Monday morning while doing his math (in my dirty dressing room floor as I hung up clothes) turned his school day on end. What followed was a fascinating day of me interrogating him while becoming more and more intrigued with his brain as he very factually and without hesitation answered all of my inquiries.

“Do all numbers have a color?”

“Yes!”

“0?”

“Black.”

“2?”

“Yellow. 5 is yellow too.”

“3?”

“Blue.”

“4?”

“Orange. And 6, 7, and 8 are purple, 9 is pink. 10 is obviously red and black.”

Now it made so much sense why, after deciding to use colored pencils for math a couple weeks ago, he had started to want to do more math each day.

“What about letters? Do they have colors?”

“Obviously. A is red. B is blue and pink. C is yellow and D is brown. E is orange and F is blue and purple.”

“Days of the week? Do they have colors?”

“Yup. Yesterday was a yellow day and the day before that was a red day. Wednesday is probably a brown day. Brown or beige.”

“So what about Saturdays?”

“What did I just say that they were?? Red, Mom!!”

I had just discovered that my six-year-old had grapheme-color synesthesia. AND I WAS TOTALLY GEEKING OUT.

Grapheme-color synesthesia: When an individual’s perception of numerals and letters is associated with the experience of colors. Like all forms of synesthesia, Grapheme-color synesthesia is involuntary, consistent, and memorable.

I’d heard about synesthesia in all its forms in my psych classes in college (a fascination that I pursued in my electives), and had more recently listened to a podcast about a woman with Mirror-Touch Synesthesia – a very real and terrifying condition that caused her to physically feel everything that she saw anyone else physically experience. Hug, punch, shivers, itches – whatever.

Synesthesia is a phenomenon where two or more senses are triggered by each other in an involuntary way. Color Synesthesia is the most common, and approximately 1% of the population experiences it. A theory is that it is associated from first memories of learning the letters – kids latch onto the colors of their refrigerator magnets, or the letters in their alphabet book. But this was disproven when they discovered synesthetes who couldn’t possibly have had those early life associations. I can’t help but wonder if there is still some connection there, and if more kids have synesthesia now that they learn their letters with blazingly colorful learning apps.

There are many more bizarre synesthesias, such as where you experience tastes when certain words or sounds are spoken, where smells have a color, when time has a spatial place around you, and where letters and other things are personified as little personalities. Often, people who are synesthetes will experience more than one type, so we had other fun conversations yesterday as well, such as,

“What color is the smell of chicken fingers?”

“What?? Mom! That’s disgusting!!”

“Where is Wednesday? Is it to the left or right of you?”

“I have NO idea.”

I found an online test for synesthetes and started Noah on it. It asks you to pick a color from the whole spectrum for each letter and number, randomized and multiple times, to see if you’re consistent with your answers. It was a bit long for a six-year-old’s attention span, however, so we haven’t finished it yet. But it was delightful to listen to his dialogue as he tried to pinpoint the colors.

“No…it’s a little lighter than that…more of a lavender. Mom, how do I get this to be lighter?”

“It’s more of a green-yellow. No, not that green. Not that one either.”

“9 is definitely pink. Not green. Help me get off the green!”

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What fascinated me most was his complete consistency. When he got to B on the test, he asked “B is blue and pink. How do I do that on here? Should I just pick one or the other?”

All day long I randomly asked him the color of numbers and letters and he’d shoot back, with complete accuracy, what he’d told me before. I kept a running note in my phone because there was no way I could possibly remember his answers from one ask to the next.

While he was taking the test, Ali walked in and asked what he was doing. I explained to her that Noah saw letters and numbers in color.

“Oh! I do too. 1 is blue, 2 is lime green – “

“WRONG!” Noah didn’t even look up from his test to inform his sister that she was categorically incorrect about the properties of numbers.

Ali wasn’t so convinced that letters had a color, but she did think days of the week had color.

She started going through her list, with very specific colors, like “Tuesday is lime green and light yellow mixed together” and when she got to Friday,

“…and Friday is sunshine yellow…”

Noah piped up, appalled, “What?!? That’s Sunday!! You’re so weird.”

I had never had a more surreal conversation with my children, and I was loving every minute of it. I had turned into psychologist mom and there was no going back.

I found this picture online and showed it to him.

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“What is in this picture?”

“Fives and twos.”

“How many twos are there?”

Without taking even a second to count, he said “there are six twos,” then pointed them all out. Because apparently, his brain comprehends them much bolder than my brain does.

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(I did ask him if he saw them in color or in black and he looked at me like I was crazy. “They’re black, Mom!!”)

The next morning, I had the kids separately make their color charts.

This is Ali’s:

Ali Synesthesia Chart

I checked it against my note, and she Ali stayed consistent with her choices, other than flip-flopping on 5 and 8 being light blue / dark blue.

And this is Noah’s. The really bold characters are due to the fact that they are supposed to be purple, and he wasn’t happy that they looked a little pink on first pass.

Noah Synesthesia Chart copy

The only deviation he made from the day before was that he decided that 7 was actually green, not purple. Additionally, he informed me that uppercase e’s are yellow, but lowercase are orange – and he preferred lowercase. I asked if all uppercase and lowercase letters were different, but he said only e and f – uppercase f is blue and purple (he got mad at himself for forgetting to add blue to it, although he did draw the dual-colored B), but lowercase is beige.

One interesting fact that I found while researching: although each synesthete has their own color-mapping, the majority make A red and O white or black. Noah has consistently told me that A is red and O is blue or black.

I have no idea what this brain phenomenon really effects, other than my children’s minds being delightfully more colorful than my own, but I’m excited to figure out how to integrate it into their education.

Noah Colors

As is, apparently, Noah.

So it might be worth the question – offhandedly, out of nowhere, to your kids:

“Hey – what color is the number 5?”

Report your findings immediately.

Note: an update can be found here.