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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Is synaesthesia more common in autism?

Simon Baron-Cohen1, Donielle Johnson1*, Julian Asher1, Sally Wheelwright1, Simon E Fisher23, Peter K Gregersen4 and Carrie Allison1

Author Affiliations

1 Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18B Trumpington Rd, Cambridge CB2 8AH, UK

2 Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, 6500 AH, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

3 Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

4 Robert S. Boas Center for Genomics and Human Genetics, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, North Shore-LIJ, Manhasset 11030, NY, USA

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Molecular Autism 2013, 4:40  doi:10.1186/2040-2392-4-40

Published: 20 November 2013

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.