Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bob the Square and Cate the Parallelogram

I sure hope this little's girl's teacher knew about object personification synesthesia or she probably got sent to the Principal's office!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Color Four - A Mini-Documentary

Last year, Meredith was the subject of a mini-documentary film challenge.  A group of three university students were looking for a topic and had recently read an article about how Meredith's school had created an innovative environment for students with learning disabilities.  They came to the school and asked to interview some students, thinking that their film was going to be about this unique school.

After they learned about Meredith's unique learning and thinking style during her interview, they changed the focus of their film a bit and focused more on Meredith.  In the beginning of the film, Meredith is drawing and describing her number 4's personality.  It's a bit hard to hear, but she talks about how her number four likes snails and in the drawing, you can faintly see the girl holding a snail with the number four on it.  This is an example of her ordinal-linguistic personification (OLP) and how she personifies numbers.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Writing in Your Mind

Meredith told me recently that she likes writing.  Thinking about her creative potential, I asked her if she ever tries writing stories.  She said, "Yes, I've tried my mind."  Then she went on to say that a lot of times in school when she's supposed to be writing an essay, it appears to her teachers that she's not starting on her work and will come up to her and say, "Get to work, Meredith!" or tap her on the shoulder, startling her out of her thinking. 
She explained that it looks like she isn't doing anything, or spacing out, but what she is actually doing is composing her entire essay in her mind.  She literally sees her hands typing on a typewriter in her mind and the words come out on the screen.  Then, she takes time (mentally) to rearrange all the sentences, paragraphs, etc.  She has a checklist of all the things she has to do.  When she is all done, then she'll go to the computer and just copy what she already composed in her mind, literally just typing out what she sees. 
She said sometimes it's really funny because in order to stay out of trouble, she'll go to the computer and move her hands like she's typing (while she's thinking) and ends up getting a bunch of random letters on the screen.  It's all just a cover up because she has to compose in her mind, not on the screen.  
She also said she can understand how it looks like she's not doing anything from other people's point of view.  In fact, she can tell who all the visual thinkers are at school because she'll walk by and see kids staring off into space. 
It explains a lot of things for me.  Like teachers, I also nag her at home to get to work.  It's so confusing because she'll complain about being so stressed out about an essay she has to write, but she's not "doing" anything about it.  Now I understand that everyone in the house is probably distracting her from the work she is doing in her mind, thinking that she is "available" to do other things like take out the garbage.  She always cranks it out on the computer really quickly in the end, and now I know why.

My husband is the exact same way.  We worked in the same office for a couple of weeks once, and I was so embarrassed because it looked like he was just sitting around not doing anything; at the same time it was confusing because he always ultimately delivered.  He said he is still constantly misunderstood at work.  He has a hard time getting presentations done (in his mind), because it looks like he's not doing anything and people stop by to talk to him in his cube and then don't understand why he gets angry for them interrupting him.

These highly visual thinkers sure are misunderstood!!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Math Is Hard If Trees Can't Grow In Volcanos

As discussed in previous posts, some people experience a form of synesthesia called Ordinal-Linguistic Personification or OLP. From what I have read on Facebook pages where synesthetes share their experiences, people with OLP have very strong and specific experiences of numbers and other similar ordinal things--days of the week, for example--as personalities. Another thing that stands out reading about other OLP synesthetes' experiences is that this personification can cause some synesthetes problems in math.

Last summer, Meredith began to spend time with a new friend. As they spent more time together, I began to observe many traits in Meredith's friend that suggested she might have synesthesia. In asking her a few simple questions (I almost always start with, "Do your days of the week have a color?" as that seems to be one the most common forms of synesthesia), it became pretty obvious that she was very synesthetic.

As the three of us discussed the girls' similarities, we began talking about numbers and math. Both girls said that they had a terrible time with math facts. However, it was clear that both girls were intellectually advanced in other areas. I confirmed with the friend's mother that this was the case. On educational testing, both girls scored very poorly on math facts, but very high in math concepts. That seemed very peculiar to me and I was exploring with the girls why that might be.

I asked them how their OLP/synesthesia interfered with math facts. Meredith's friend quickly came up with an example. To her, number nine was a wise, old tree and zero was a volcano. She explained that if she has to add nine plus zero, she comes up with nothing, or zero, because she knows that trees don't grow in volcanoes. She told me in a very sincere manner and had a look on her face as if she was hoping I could shed some light on how she could get around this fact that was very real for her.

She offered a second example. When she would have to add two numbers together and the sum was a different color (in her mind) than the combination of the two numbers' individual color, she would be confused. For instance, if she saw 5 as blue and 6 as red, she would expect the answer (11) to be purple. But for her, 11 is yellow. She told me that once a teacher was helping her and she told the teacher, "...but the answer is yellow," and after her teacher gave her an odd look, she dropped it.

Bringing these examples to the fore and discussing them, I sensed that for the first time, Meredith's friend realized that this personification may be the reason why she has struggled with math facts. It was as if a lightbulb went off and she was able to look at her experiences from outside herself. We talked about ways she might be able to get around her issues with the wise, old tree and the volcano. Maybe she could figure out certain scenarios in which trees could grow in volcanoes. I brought this issue to the staff at their school which they now both attended. I was happy to hear that instead of trying to "cure" this issue, they worked with Meredith's friend's personal framework. Her friend began writing different story lines and scenarios for those math facts that confused her.

I asked Meredith if she remembered a time she said something to a teacher about some synesthetic experience and received an odd look. (It seems relatively common that synesthetes have some early negative encounter with a friend, parent, or teacher after sharing something about their unique synesthetic experiences and that may be one reason they keep it to themselves from that point on. For example, once I was at a party and a guy brought up the fact that his wife always makes fun of him because he says his letters and words have different colors. His wife jumped in and said something to the effect of, "I know! Isn't he just silly?!?" That was a fun moment for me to inform her that no, he was not!) Meredith told me that in second grade, her teacher was holding up flashcards with the different vowel sounds on them (e.g., short a, long a). The class was supposed to say the correct pronunciation of that particular vowel sound out loud when the teacher flashed the card. But when the teacher held up the "short a" flashcard, for example, Meredith would say, "Red," as she sees the letter A as red. Meredith laughed because she said her teacher would just keep holding the flashcard closer and closer to her face hoping to elicit the correct response from her.

It seems to be a surprise to most synesthetes that not everybody experiences the world like they do with different synesthetic experiences. After all, most people probably assume that everyone thinks more or less in a similar fashion and thus, never question it as being "different." In my experience with my family, friends, and other people I have met or read about online, learning that they experience the world a little differently than most due to their synesthesia allows them to bring their unique experiences to the foreground for the first time and perhaps gain some insights as to why they may have felt different at times or had some confusion. Many have expressed relief that they now really understand what is going on.

With child synesthestes who struggle in school, I believe that recognizing their synesthesia is very important in preventing any roadblocks to their school success and self-confidence. As I wrote in an earlier post, Meredith was finally able to figure out how to get around her number personalities distracting her in math class and as a result, her math scores have increased significantly. Perhaps she would have eventually figured it out on her own, but I believe if she can be an active participant in that process and make it happen sooner rather than later, she will be better off. She would experience less confusion, stress, and falling behind in school. That is why I am passionate about spreading the word about synesthesia and how it may impact a child's learning and school experience.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Song Associations and Earworms

I recently learned of more examples of how Meredith visualizes almost everything, including things she hears.

Meredith shared with me that when she sees or thinks of something that reminds her of a song, one of her little ants puts the song on a record player.

If Meredith has an earworm (a song that gets stuck in your head), it shows up on the repeat menu of an ipod.

And of course, she can always go to the Kariokie-Dokie to get the lyrics to any song!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Getting Your Numbers Out of the Way for Math Class

As I discussed in previous posts (here and here), Meredith's numbers are characters.  This is a form of synesthesia called Ordinal Linguistic Personification, or OLP.  From what I've heard from other synesthetes, OLP can sometimes make math harder in the sense that the numbers are distracting to the task at hand.  For example, some numbers might not get along, so it is uncomfortable to add them together. Or maybe the numbers are in the middle of a cooking competition and are divided up into teams (as once was the case for Meredith); so when two numbers who are on different teams need to be added together, it doesn't make sense.

Recently, however, we've noticed that Meredith seems to be having a much easier time in math. When asking Meredith about this, she said that she finally figured a way to get her number characters out of the way so that they don't distract her anymore.  Before she goes into math class, Merebith and Dogot line up all the numbers on one of those "hold-a-ring walking ropes" used in preschools and walk the numbers into a closet, where they remain until class is over!  Apparently the numbers are pretty gullible and easy to manipulate.  When math class is over, all the numbers pile out of the closet and usually most of them are gasping for fresh air since one of the numbers has a little problem with gas...    

Friday, February 22, 2013

Use the "Kariokie-Dokie" to Remember Song Lyrics

I've written before about how Meredith loves music and has an uncanny memory for song lyrics. Today, Meredith explained that she is able to do this because she designed a system in her mind to help her remember the lyrics. All she has to do is head on over to the "Kariokie-Dokie!" 

The Kariokie-Dokie is a karaoke place where Merebith loves to go sing. The Kariokie-Dokie is a bit like a theatre with a big screen and seating. Songs play on the screen with the lyrics, just like you see at any typical karaoke bar. The background visuals on the screen are the synesthetic colors and patterns that Meredith sees when she hears that particular song.

Merebith and her friends love to have karaoke competitions. Merebith has won three karaoke trophies already! Of course, Dogot always loses competitions because he sings in his robot-like voice. The security ants like to participate as well.   

Meredith explained that it takes about three times listening to a song to get the lyrics down--the first time to get the tune and two more times to get all the lyrics. Once she's got them, they are permanently in the Kariokie-Dokie system and she can refer to them anytime she wants to. Pretty soon, however, she has the lyrics committed to memory and doesn't need to look at the karaoke screen anymore.

Meredith and I always talk about the irony that she can remember all the lyrics to songs even when words are not her friend in other settings. Now, however, it makes sense because when she is singing, she is accessing a dynamic, mental visual system to "see" the words.  And the fact that after a period of time she no longer needs to refer to the karaoke screen is testament that processing information (even words) through a visual thinking circuit is what ultimately solidifies information into knowledge and long-term memory for her and other highly visual thinkers