Synaesthesia and autism: Different developmental outcomes from overlapping mechanisms?

Tessa M. van Leeuwen, Janina Neufeld, James Hughes, Jamie Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Synaesthesia, a mixing of the senses, is more common in individuals with autism. Here, we review the evidence for the association between synaesthesia and autism with regard to their genetic background, brain connectivity, perception, cognitive mechanisms and their contribution to exceptional talents. Currently, the overlap between synaesthesia and autism is established most convincingly at the level of alterations in sensory sensitivity and perception, with synaesthetes showing autism-like profiles of sensory sensitivity and a bias towards details in perception. Shared features may include a predominance of local over global connectivity in the brain. When autism and synaesthesia co-occur in the same individual, the chance of developing heightened cognitive and memory abilities is increased. We discuss how the same theoretical models could potentially explain both conditions. Given the evidence, we believe the phenotypical overlap between autism and synaesthesia has been established clearly enough to invite future research to confirm overlapping mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-449
Number of pages17
JournalCognitive Neuropsychology
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2020


  • Synaesthesi
  • Autism
  • Brain Connectivity
  • Perception
  • Cognitive Mechanism


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