I've known for a long time that Anna "hears colors". Although I think she sees colors for all sounds and it does not seem to bother her, she sometimes reacts with fear or anxiety to certain sounds. These sounds seem pretty innocuous to me but they are very upsetting to Anna - overhead fans, cellphones on vibration, refrigerators humming, leaf blowers and weed wackers, to name a few. Vacuum cleaners produced such terrified screaming that I got rid of all area rugs that could not be washed in the washing machine and sold the offending vacuum cleaner at a yard sale.
Two months ago, a friend did a reading evaluation with Anna. I've been concerned that she has not picked up reading like she should and I wanted to know why. Instead of sounding out letters and stringing the sounds together to read words, she's been memorizing whole words. Any time (at home) we try to press her to sound out words, she tells us that she either does not want to or can't do it, and if pressed harder she will tantrum. This is a problem that I don't know how to solve.
After an initial reading evaluation, my friend told me she thinks Anna does not like making certain sounds, especially if she is sounding out a word and the offending sounds occur at the end of the word. So far it seems that "m" and "n" are the sounds in isolation that Anna dislikes most. Knowing that Anna associates certain sounds with certain colors, my friend suggested that perhaps for Anna, as for many synthetes, some letters are strong colors, such as red, and that could be off-putting to her.
What prompted this hypothesis was an extremely interesting exchange between my friend and Anna during the reading evaluation. Anna was having a hard time making the "m" and "n" sounds at the end of words, and not knowing exactly why, my friend decided to hold Anna's hand to her nose or throat while making the sounds so that Anna could hear and feel the differences between the two letters. As my friend was making the "m" sound and holding Anna's hand to her throat, she said Anna turned deathly pale and looked scared out of her gourd. My friend stopped and asked Anna what was wrong. Anna said she didn't like that sound, it made her afraid. My friend asked why? Anna said it was an angry sound.
I've been thinking about this and turning it over and over in my head for some time. I've spoken with Anna's teachers and her speech therapist and they have not seen this issue with Anna - although they do tell me she is memorizing whole words to get around sounding them out. They have not heard of and/or experienced a child with synesthesia having problems with reading and they don't have any suggestions for me. And Anna is still not reading. Not at home, anyway. I'm becoming increasingly concerned about this.
So as I've been sitting on this, trying to formulate a plan, something else extremely interesting happened while Anna was in speech therapy the other week. Her therapist had put her cell phone on vibrate so it would not disturb their session. Well of course, it disturbed Anna - so much that she had to leave the room. She was very upset and told the therapist that she is afraid of the sound and would not go back to her session until her therapist had turned the phone off. So her therapist mentioned this to me and I nodded yes - this is typical for Anna. I remember watching a different therapy session where the same thing happened - a cell phone vibrated and Anna stopped and screamed. She sobbed that the sound made her afraid and would not go back to the therapy session until the sound had stopped and she was assured it would not happen again.
As we were leaving speech therapy the other week after the cell phone incident had happened, I decided to ask Anna a few questions. (It's still a lovely realization that Anna can answer my questions about her experiences.) I asked her if she saw a color when she heard the cell phone vibrate. She said yes, it's a scary sound, like a monster. I asked her what color did she see? She said "black - black like a scary monster!".
I could not believe my ears. She was telling me the truth - I know she was not exaggerating. And then suddenly it made sense. It's the sound plus the vibration that is the problem. The vibration of the cell phone. The hum of a refrigerator. The whir of an overhead fan. The "mmmm" vibration my friend made as she held Anna's hand to her throat. These sorts of sound vibrations have always produced a fear response in Anna. And now, after 2 years of speech therapy, she can tell me why - she sees black. Black is scary. No wonder she gets creeped out. I would, too.
I don't know where to go with this yet or how to help Anna. So far nobody I've spoken with is familiar with synethesia or how it may or may not impact reading in a child. I don't know what to say or what to do to give Anna the coping skills she'll need to deal with this. If anyone has any suggestions, please pass them along - I'd appreciate it.