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Number Form Synaesthesia

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Spatial Sequence Synaesthesia and Number Form Synaesthesia often go hand in hand. After some research, I do think these two types are slightly different. Probably most synaesthetes who have Number Form experience numbered sequences in a spatial way, thus this type can overlap with Spatial Sequence Synaesthesia.

The definitions of these two types, according to Wikipedia, are:
Number Form Synaesthesia: A number form is a mental map of numbers, which automatically and involuntarily appears whenever someone who experiences number-forms thinks of numbers.

Spatial Sequence Synaesthesia: A special form of the condition, in which people tend to see all numerical sequences they come across as points in space. For instance, the number 1 might be farther away and the number 2 might be closer. A new study shows that those with SSS have superior memories. They were able to recall past events and memories far better, and in far greater detail than those without the condition.

I have long been suspecting that my children have the Number Form Synaesthesia. There were a few reasons behind this. One was my own association with this kind of perceptions. Two was because of my children’s extended and almost limitless number senses. Skye was given a challenge twice, once last year and once this year, to tell everyone in the class the largest number he could remember. There was no pre-study, the research was done in the class, on the spot, within a very short timeframe. He was able to remember up to 39 digits last year. But this year, after a couple of minutes’ study, he was able to name a 126-digit number (999 Quadragintillion 999 Novemtrigintillion …) without making any mistakes.

The third reason was something said by Thomas’ teacher during a parent teacher interview early last year. She asked us if Thomas had a calculator in his own mind as he appeared to be very quick in calculating sums and seemed that he was grabbing those numbers from somewhere. We all thought he had remembered the times table, but no, he did not remember it at that time at all, but he could add the same number multiple times as quickly as people who could remember the times table. I didn’t know he projected real images of calculators at the time. So I thought it might to do with the Number Form Synaesthesia.

My suspicion was confirmed late last year. Both children have strong Number Form Synaesthesia, and Spatial Sequence Synaesthesia in general.

When they think about ordered numbers, numbers get projected in a certain way according to the context. For example, if they need to count, integers usually appear row by row, e.g., 1-10 are at the bottom row, 11-20 sit above 1-10 in a reversed order, 21-30 sit at the third bottom row and so forth. If a number represents a year, it appears in a different location. Skye sees some past years behind him whereas future years in front of him. Thomas sees years in a loop around him. Both of them see number “0″ under the ground.

One day, I asked Thomas where his 9999 was, he walked to the window and pointed to the sky and said, “it’s there.” He then said he could see planets too. I had a real shock. I will write about my children’s spatial sequence in planets in my next blog.

To be objective, I want to clarify two facts. My children do not believe having Number Form/Spatial Sequence Synaesthesia is the main reason why they are good at Mathematics though it may have enhanced their memories. There is also a myth that synaesthetes are not good at arithmetic which is very inaccurate in my family’s case. I think some synaesthetes are excellent in Maths and some are not so good, just like non-synaesthetes.

I was about to finish this blog, and found something that I wrote when I first discovered my children’s Number Form Synaesthesia. I can still feel the emotion.

I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything today. The images of little Thomas sitting in his classroom grabbing numbers around him, and both children looking under the ground to see number zero just unsettle me. I hope when Thomas starts doing big number calculations in the classroom, he will be sitting close to the window so that he can see the sky more easily.

It is pretty amazing, amusing and sad at the same time. How come they perceive the world in such a different way? I just hope they will utilise these hidden capabilities to full and contribute to the world with their unique minds. I will worry about what my grandchildren are like when the time comes.

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