Colours Tell Stories?

Different coloured speech bubbles with different things that make sound, including a woman singing, a cat, a dog, a trumpet and a car on a subtle dark background showing sound waves.

A good way to find out about and understand the breadth of autism, and the diversity of autistic experience is to read first hand accounts. However, many accounts provide descriptions that are so different from what most people experience that they can be completely baffling. In this article we unpick Tito Mukhopadhyay’s experience of autism.

In the first chapter of Tito Mukhopadhyay’s book ‘How Can I Talk If My Lips Don’t Move?’, Tito describes his fascination and obsession with a mirror. This fascination stemmed from the colours reflected in the mirror, which seemed to communicate stories to him in languages of blue and brown for the sky and hills, or white and red for white walls and a red floor.

When Tito views colours of objects in regular 3D eg. a red chair or some green curtains - to most of us, and to Tito, it is just a red chair and some green curtains - nothing more. But when Tito views that same red chair or green curtains through a mirror - making them a 2D reflection - for Tito, the colours tell stories.

Tito’s description of his experiences with the mirror are bewildering to many. But when you figure out what is going on, everything falls into place. Tito’s experiences with the mirror become clearer as subsequent chapters of his book provide more insight into his autism:

The objects themselves did not tell stories, only the colours of their reflections did. Frustratingly for Tito at the time, the mirror refused to reflect the colours of the sounds of his own voice laughing or screaming, nor the voice of his mother. When his mother was talking to him, the mirror would not show Tito any stories. Tito often knew he had stopped screaming only when the colour of his scream disappeared, or when the sound of his screaming stopped. This usually happened in response to some external stimulus such as his mother singing to him to calm him down. Tito’s boundary between imagining and experiencing is ‘delicate’.

These clues initially seem to add to the confusion surrounding Tito’s experiences, but upon closer examination, they reveal two underlying issues: synaesthesia and mono-processing.


Synaesthesia is a condition where information meant to stimulate once sense stimulates one or more other senses as well. So words may be experienced as colour as well as sound, or numbers may have colour, shapes, or even emotions perceived with them.

For Tito, synaesthesia means that sounds have colours. In a mirror, the world is reflected in 2D, making patches of colour that are not attached to actual objects. Because the colours have become detached from their actual physical objects, they become associated with voices. Voices tell stories so, in Tito’s mind these colours must also be telling a story. But a story that was fascinating because it was told in two dimensions rather than a one dimensional sequence of words. At this point, Tito’s imagination regarding what the colours were saying got involved and reality and imagination became blurred together.

The reason why the mirror did not reflect the colours of sounds is because the perception of those colours in conjuction with sound is in Tito’s brain, not in reality. But how can a two year old know that what he is ‘seeing’ is not real? How can he know that the mirror isn’t really telling him stories, but that this is a combination of associating colours with sounds, knowing that voices make stories (for example the voice of his mother) and his own imagination?

It is worth noting at this point that Tito had no difficulty understanding what his mother was saying to him, although he could not talk and still cannot talk. The very fact that Tito wrote the book ‘How can I talk when my lips don’t move?’ at the age of 19 demonstrates that Tito has no difficulty with language, but on the contrary excels at expressing himself in writing.


At the time of the described experiences, Tito had mono-processing, which means that he couldn’t attend to what he was hearing and what he was seeing, and what his body was doing all at the same time. Instead he could attend to just one of these at a time. Some kind of hierarchy of senses is also demonstrated, with hearing taking priority. This explains why his mother’s voice stopped the mirror ‘talking’. Tito normally processed speech as a matter of priority. If he was attending to the sound of his screaming or the colour of his screaming, Tito would know he had stopped screaming only when he noticed the colour or sound had stopped. This was normally as he responded to his mother’s voice singing in his ear to calm him down and as he attended to that instead. So, while hearing took priority over his other senses, within that, his focus would prioritise speech over sound in general. This is why he did not notice straight away he had stopped screaming.

Because of mono-processing, Tito had a lot of difficulty learning to interact with the world by manipulating objects and learning to write so that he could demonstrate what he understood and his creativity with words.

This is just one person’s experience of autism. It does not mean that if a child is fascinated by a mirror that it is for the same reason as Tito’s fascination. Donna Williams, for example, was also fascinated by mirrors, but for a completely different reason.

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of synaethesisa, you can read a first hand account from a mother of a boy with synaesthesia about the benefits the profile had on her and her child’s life.

The above serves as a taster of the detailed analysis involved in creating an autism profile or an ‘integrative cognitive profile’ (for those who don’t have a diagnosis of autism) . This process involves gathering a lot of data by asking questions and analysing the data to gain insight into individuals with autism.

The analysis of this data enables Aspiedent to recommend personalised strategies, interventions, and support plans that cater to the individual’s specific needs. This is generally life changing. It empowers individuals with autism by providing them with a better understanding of themselves including their strengths and weaknesses, which can boost self-confidence and well being.

If you think this kind of analysis would help you and you would like to explore an autism profile or an integrative cognitive profile then get in touch.