Synesthesia: Why some people taste, feel and see things differently
Some kids experience a cross-wiring of the senses that causes them to feel, see and taste things in unique ways.
When Vivian Russo was three years old, the crafts table wasn’t just a place to express her creativity; it was a veritable buffet where she could “taste” shiny and colourful art supplies just by looking at them. This wasn’t a byproduct of her vivid imagination; Vivian has synesthesia, a neurological condition where one sense triggers an unrelated sense, causing the two to come together in an unexpected way. For Vivian, seeing colours or certain textures gives her a specific taste in her mouth, as real to her as if she were eating the food. The colour blue, for example, tastes like spoiled milk. Glitter is spicy.
Cheryl Ward knows this all too well. A synesthete herself, Ward is the principal of the Heritage Academy in Ottawa, a school for children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia (which Ward also has), attention deficit disorder and anxiety issues . Ward believes that synesthesia is under-diagnosed; the screening test isn’t routinely administered, and the school system tends to focus on difficulties in language, math, memory and processing, rather than sensory perception. Over the course of her 18 years at the school, about 30 students have been identified as having synesthesia, which she considers a learning disability. “Anything that has the child learning differently when you’re presenting the information is a learning disability,” says Ward.