About Synesthesia &
Super Senses

In addition to autism, Grace is believed to have Synesthesia, an involuntary neurological condition in which two or more senses are overlapped or intermingled. Stimulation of one sense automatically triggers a response in one of the other senses. For example, Grace might see colour when she hears a sound. Grace’s experience of this additional perception is real, not imagined in her mind, and it feels like it comes from outside her body.

People who experience this phenomenon are known as synesthetes. Some famous synesthetes include the artist Paul Klee, writer Virginia Wolfe, poet Charles Baudelaire, musicians and composers Franz Liszt, Duke Ellington, and Leonard Bernstein, among others.

Grace’s condition was evident early on. As a young girl, with very limited language, she would scream that she “smelled red” when having a temper tantrum. Over the years, it became apparent that Grace experienced the sensory world in a deeper and more complex way than the rest of us do.

Grace identifies herself with a rich, royal shade of purple. For her, every person has a colour, most commonly blue. Likewise, days of the week, months of the year and musical notes each have their own colour. Grace’s sense of smell is also involved. The pretty, pinkish-red brick house across the street from her home “smells like strawberries.” The pleasurable experience of drawing with different coloured markers can trigger the aromas of grapes, mangos or cherries. To her, a beautiful day “smells green.”

Aside from synesthesia, Grace is known to have other heightened sensory perceptions. Her sense of smell and hearing can be extremely acute. She has been known to comment on the sound of a plane that nobody else hears, only to have one fly overhead a short time later. From the back of the second storey at her house, she can discern who is climbing the stairs by the sound or weight of their tread, or can hear a pop can being opened from one floor up, despite the louder, competing noises of the washer, dryer and TV being running close proximity. Grace once pointed to a high school teacher as she came into class and said “new shampoo” from across the room. Of course, the teacher had indeed that morning used a new shampoo. 

Much of Grace’s artwork conveys her sensory experiences, where colours, shapes, patterns and textures collide and overlap in different ways to create surprisingly sophisticated abstract designs.