Students with Unique Conditions

Students with Unique Conditions

Ever since childbirth, expe­riences revolve around the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. But what happens when these senses are affected? Managing Editor Inaara Padani inter­views three Upper School stu­dents who have conditions that alter their senses.

Synesthesia

BY THE COLOR  Junior Lydia Li has grapheme-color synesthesia, allowing her to associate single digits with various colors. Credit: Inaara Padani
BY THE COLOR
Junior Lydia Li has grapheme-color synesthesia, allowing her to associate single digits with various colors.
Credit: Inaara Padani

When junior Lydia Li sits down to take a math test, she doesn’t see the numbers on the page in black ink like most peo­ple do. Instead, she sees colors.

Li’s condition is called synesthesia—“an anomalous blending of the senses, in which the stimulation of one modality simultaneously pro­duces sensation in a different modality,” according to scien­tificamerican.com.

Experiencing colors when presented with numbers or letters is a specific form of synesthesia  called  grapheme- color synesthesia. Although all synesthetes  do  not  relate  the same letters or numbers with the same colors, the association remains  constant  through  an individual’s lifetime.

For    example,    Li    always links zero with white, one with white outlined by a black border,  two  with  bright   yellow, three with light blue, four with dark  green,  five with  red,  six with  light  green,  seven  with dark  blue,  eight  with  brown and nine with black.

According to Li, these pat- terns   developed   due   to   her childhood experiences. “When I was younger, I always  colored  numbers  in  the same  color  because  I  thought they looked pretty,” Li said.

Additionally, she often played with LEGOs as a child, but it wasn’t until earlier this month   while  working   with LEGOs for the Science Olympiad that Li discovered the similarities between the colors she sees and the colors of LEGOs.

In    Kindergarten, Li  attended  a  class  in  which  she learned how to use an abacus, an ancient calculation tool.This was around the same time that she  developed  an  affinity for LEGOs. Although Li discovered this  condition  herself  during freshman   year   and   has   not been formally diagnosed with synesthesia,  she  believes  that upbringing impacts the development of this condition.

Credit: Madelyn Brewer

Research indicates that synesthesia could be related to memory,  learning  and childhood development, but according to Psychology Today, the primary  perspective  of  the  cause of  synesthesia  is  a  mutation that leads to defective pruning between areas of the brain that are normally connected.

According  to  the  American  Psychological  Association, one in 2,000 people have some form  of  synesthesia;  however, the number is probably larger because  many individuals are unaware of their condition.

In some cases, synesthesia can be beneficial as it is potentially linked to memory, but Li pointed out a disadvantage in regards to her condition.

“I think it hinders my concentration,” Li said. “It’s kind of distracting when I try to focus on numbers but not the color.”

On the other hand, Li said that  synesthesia  makes  math more entertaining. She doesn’t mind telling others about her condition,  describing  it  as  “a fun topic  to  talk about” when introducing herself to others.

Anosmia

Last year, sophomore Lauren Hoang was diagnosed with anosmia,  which  is  defined  as the complete loss of smell.

“I  never  really  realized  I didn’t have [a sense of smell] until my parents kept alluding to things like when we’d pass by a bakery and nothing would change for me,” Hoang said.

Anosmia has various possible   causes,   the   most   common of which is nasal congestion from a cold, allergy, sinus infection  or  poor  air  quality. Other causes are head trauma, injury  to  the  nose  and  smell nerves, exposure to toxic chemicals and use of certain medications.  However,  Hoang’s  anosmia is something  that she has experienced  since  birth,  and she is unaware of the origin of her condition.

Hoang’s ability to smell is not the only sense impacted by her   anosmia.  This condition also interferes with her taste.

“I know I like to take things a lot saltier than a lot of people do,” Hoang said. “I also eat things based on texture; I like crunchy things. Chips don’t really taste  like anything to me, but I just like eating chips because of the texture.”

Since Hoang has no frame of reference for what it’s like to smell, she doesn’t mind having this   condition.   Nevertheless, some unfavorable aspects associated with anosmia still exist.

“I feel kind of bad knowing that I’ll never be able to smell certain things,” Hoang said. “I read something that said smell is linked to memories a lot, so I feel kind of bad knowing that I probably won’t experience that sort of thing.”

Despite   this,  Hoang  remains positive and does not allow her condition to interfere with her day-to-day life.

“Just because you can’t smell, you can’t see or you can’t hear, doesn’t mean that you’re worse

off than anyone else,” Hoang said. “It just means that you’re different, but you’re still equal.”

Stereo Blindness

Freshman Mackenzie Brabham has been playing tennis for five years. As a member of the varsity tennis team, she is well- equipped  with  the  skills  necessary to  play the sport. How- ever, Brabham lacks stereopsis, which allows humans to determine distances between objects and see the world in three dimensions.  While  most  people see everything in 3D, Brabham’s world is two-dimensional.

Last  year,  Brabham  went to the eye doctor because she couldn’t see the board in class. It was then that she discovered her condition.

“I don’t know how to explain it to people because it just looks normal to me,” Brabham said.

Despite her lack of stereoscopic vision, Brabham is able

to go about her daily life without too much difficulty.

“There   will   be   moments where I’ll try and put my phone on the table, and I’ll just miss,” she said.

Although  wearing  glasses and  contacts  can  allow  Brabham to get a glimpse of what it’s like to see in 3D, her condition was discovered too late, and it can’t be fixed completely. Nevertheless, Brabham remains engaged in the activities she loves.

“I play tennis, and I grew up and learned to play tennis with [stereo   blindness],”   Brabham said. “It can hurt me a little bit in sports, but it’s not too bad.”

For Brabham, this two-dimensional world is completely normal, although it may seem foreign to others.

“It’s out of the norm,” she said. “So, it’s kind of cool.”

– Inaara Padani