Meet Annie: ASD, Synesthesia, Blind and a Community Advisory Board Member Addressing Violence Against People with Disabilities

Annie W. lives in Oregon. She is on the autistic spectrum, as well as blind. Annie is actively involved in her local community, and serves on a community advisory board for a project designed to address violence against people with disabilities. She says she is learning how to play golf through a mobility-impaired golf organization and that she enjoys speaking at related events. Annie loves listening to different types of music, feeling fur and other soft materials, learning about new, different, or unusual things, and science.

Elesia: Synesthesia, wow! Wikipedia describes synesthesia as “a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” Please give us a description of how you experience synesthesia.

Annie: I first noticed it in the way of letters, numbers, words, and punctuation automatically being certain colors. I also hear in color. I laughed once years ago when I thought of a song being purple because I hear them in yellow, green, brown and other colors besides purple. I still didn’t know that it was synesthesia. When I had vision, I saw things and also got sound from them when they moved, changed in size, or just stayed in one spot. I remember seeing the time move up to the next minute number and hearing the “click” it made. When I feel things there’s automatic sound. It’s funny when things feel loud. When I had vision and I saw something, and even now when I hear and when I hear/sense where things are, it has the same synesthetic sound.

Elesia: You shared with me the concept of everything having a shared existence–even things that do not move or make sound. Please explain this further.

Annie: It’s like things automatically having sound just by existing. Besides synesthesia I “hear” things when I or they go by. It’s more known in the blind community. It developed stronger after 2002 when I lost the residual vision in my right eye. Experiencing that kind of hear/sense also has synesthetic sound like when I “feel-hear” things from touch. When I hear the room around me there’s a constant sound by me sensing it existing.

Elesia: You are able to use your ability to *see* colored days of the week to quickly find out the day any date of a month is on. Explain how that works. And what day will my birthday fall on this year? My birthday is July 16th.

Annie: I discovered it one night. I usually go around the current year or “landmarks” I remember in it or in other years. The days of the week have color. I take the known name off of the day out and go up or down the line of color squares in my mind while counting up or down the day numbers then I “put” the name back on. There is also a song I made up years ago that has 7 “syllables” in it that matches good while adding or subtracting. This year, your birthday is a Saturday. I can also do it without colors which makes it slower though. It’s easier to think of the days in my mind than to know the current date of this day.

Elesia: Do you feel being on the autistic spectrum or being blind enhances your synesthesia?

Annie: I think there might be a connection with autism and synesthesia a little, but I don’t know for sure that it enhances it. Being autistic makes me love colors and sounds and soft things, but I think synesthesia just came with my brain and its other amazing conditions. Being blind only enhanced the way of “hearing” the room or spaces/things present–then synesthesia is included, and in that sense that gives it sound.

Elesia: Is there anything about synesthesia I have not asked that you would like to share?

Annie: I have a theory that some savants or other people also use synesthesia–if they have it–to help abilities/talents or create them. I have a thought of people using it to add in math like how I use it to figure out the days of the week that dates are on. I thought it was “just” an amazing thing, but it’s also amazing to know that it can be used to figure things out.