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Home  >  Family and Community  >  Family Features
Abbigale Hears in Color
By Hilary Seitz, Ph.D. Page 1 of 7   Next ยป

"Monday is yellow, Tuesday is orange, Wednesday is brown, Thursday is yellowish-gray, Friday is turquoise, Saturday is brown, and Sunday is yellow."

Hilary Seitz, Ph.D.
One day when Abbigale had just turned six, we sat on the couch alone and snuggled up to read a story and she started telling me things.  Things that I had learned to nod my head at, things that I would say "oh, yes" or "uh-huh" at, things that were somewhat mundane but important to a six-year-old. Abbigale is the type of child that can be very quiet at school and when she is alone with me, my husband, or her best friend, she starts blabbing away almost to the point where we have to tell her to stop.  She told me bits and pieces about her day at school, things she was working on, who she sits by at lunch -- all the usual things.  She started telling me a story and she described each of the days of the week as a specific color.  She told me one day was yellow, brown, or orange (one day was turquoise) -- I don't recall which day was which.  This stood out to me because Abbigale is a "pink girl."  She is one of those girls who always wears pink, loves ballet, and other girly things.  I love her pink spirit and have come to embrace this "pinkness."  During our conversation, she didn't list any of the days as pink.  In fact, they were all listed (except the turquoise day) as her worst colors -- the colors she disliked the most.  I remember asking her why there weren't any "pink days" and she just said, "I don't know, they just are that color."

I didn't think much about this conversation until several months later when I was having dinner with Abbigale and my husband at one of our favorite pizza places.  My other daughter was not with us so Abbigale was taking advantage of having our full attention.  She started telling us about the days of the week and which color they were again - again they were the browns, yellows and oranges plus Friday was turquoise.  I replayed "Friday is turquoise" over in my mind and I had the flashback to our previous conversation on the couch months prior.  She added several details about their color and how they made her feel such as: "I don't like Wednesday because that color makes me mad sometimes."  We commented with simple responses like "wow" or "hmm" - these were always my common responses to young children when they told me something I was unsure about.  I really didn't know how else to respond at this point as she continued her story, enjoying the attention.  She told us that all numbers and letters have colors too, as well as other things like words.  As she said these things, I kept looking at my husband across the table and eyeing him.  I was trying to ask him and say, "Whoa, what is going on?"  I did not say this out loud because I wanted her to keep telling us these ideas and thoughts.

In the back of my mind something was stirred as Abbigale discussed her colors.  Somewhere in my studies of young children, I remember reading about color associations.  I decided that night to do a little research.  I "googled" the terms: colors, associations, symbols, and numbers.  The term Synesthesia and articles about this "gift" came on the screen.  I felt worried, elated, and curious as I quickly scanned the data and articles.  As an overeducated mother, one who is a teacher, professor, mother that is used to researching questions, I was definitely fascinated.

I began to read everything I could on the Internet about Synesthesia.  I learned the basics that Synesthesia is normal and unusual.  Synesthesia is when two senses are combined so that when a person hears something, he or she may also see something or taste something.  I watched YouTube videos of others describing their experience.  I read studies about this phenomenon and I found some batteries or tests to see if you are synesthetic.  I wasn't really ready to admit that Abbigale was synesthetic but I was starting to think that there may be more to Abbigale's colored days of the week.

I began to document the different colors with symbols.  Abbigale happily agreed to answer all of my questions and smiled broadly as I wrote down all of her words, much like children do in a classroom when their teacher documents their thoughts and ideas.  In fact, she seemed almost relieved and excited about sharing her "colors."  She calls this gift/ability her "colors."  She talked about her colors as if everyone had colors, although when I asked her about thinking if other people had colors, she wasn't really sure.  She also told me she had never told anyone else about her colors.  She doesn't seem ashamed of them, just that she doesn't really understand them, and perhaps she doesn't have the language or cognitive ability to describe them.  I found very little information or research about children who are Synesthetic in my search. 

Being Synesthetic is somewhat rare, as the statistics range from 1 in 2000 to 1 in 300 (Carpenter, 2001).  The wide range is probably due to the difficulty in "diagnosing" or understanding this ability. Synesthesia may also be misdiagnosed as a learning disability or psychological issue that interferes with daily activity or adds a different dimension to experiences (Carpenter, 2001).  The most common form of Synesthesia, or the most commonly stated, is colored hearing.  Colored hearing is when the Synesthete hears a sound, a word, or music and also sees colors or colored shapes (Carpenter, 2001; Cytowic, 2001; Baron-Cohen, 1998).  Sometimes, the initial sound generates the color; other times the actual beginning letter creates the color association. This pairing is known as "chromatic-graphemic" Synesthesia (Baron-Cohen, 1993).  This is the special type of synesthetic ability that Abbigale has.

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About the Author: Dr. Hilary Seitz is and Associate Professor and the Early Childhood Program Coordinator for the College of Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She has been teaching in the early childhood field since 1986 as an infant/toddler teacher, preschool teacher, primary grades teacher in public school, reading teacher, and as a college professor since 2003. Her research interests include: family-community partnerships, early literacy strategies, teacher research and reflection using observations and documentation, and currently she is exploring pre-service early childhood teacher education practices. In her free time, she enjoys reading, camping, skiing, hiking, sewing, cooking, and spending time with her family.
Next page:   Learning About Abbigale's Colors Pages:  1 2  3  4  5  6  7 

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