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Williams Syndrome

Williams Syndrome is classified as an intellectual disability that can range from being mild to severe (Reynolds, Zupanick, & Dombeck, 2010).

It is characterized by cardiovascular disease, distinctive facial features such as a small upturned nose, a long philtrum (the vertical groove above the upper lip), wide mouth, full lips, small chin, puffiness around the eyes, and in some cases widely spaced teeth, growth abnormalities, and unique personality characteristics (Morris 2006).

Williams Syndrome is a genetic syndrome. It occurs when approximately 21 genes in chromosome 7 are deleted. This happens during pregnancy when either the sperm or the egg as the fetus is developing (Genetic Science Learning Center 1969). It affects 1 in 7,500, so it is considered pretty rare compared to Autism (1 in 150) and Down Syndrome (1 in 800) (Dobbs, 2007).

Learning Strategies

boy reading

Strengths. According to the Williams Syndrome Association, students at the secondary level have academic strengths in various areas. These areas include their ability to use expressive vocabulary, short and long-term auditory memory, sociability, and sensitive hearing (hyperacusis). They also have an increased ability to get information from pictures, ability to learn through actual “hands-on” experience, have a heightened awareness of the emotions of others, and have extraordinary musical ability.

Teaching Strategies

Pupils/students who have Williams Syndrome tend to have difficulty with tasks that require spatial analysis (Levine, 1997). Spatial analysis activities include finding items on a busy page, such as a workbook page, reading from left to right, learning to distinguish letters (such as “b” from “d”), and telling time on a clock. Accommodations can be to:

  • Simplify the amount of material presented on a worksheet, use auditory memory skills (because it is a strength of those with Williams Syndrome) to learn from pictures in reading.
  • Use picture cards with word labels for reading, and encourage the student to memorize picture captions and stories following the text (Levine, 1997).
  • A simple way to help students with time is to use a digital clock and a wall calendar to help students notice the long-term effects of time and plan for future events. Problems with time-concepts can be aided with personalized questions, such as using the students name and a real-life event.
  • Help students recognize numbers and allow them to use a calculator when teaching these students math skills. Students with Williams Syndrome also have difficulty with tasks that require fine motor, or visual motor skills. These skills include paper and pencil tasks, especially writing and drawing, learning to tie shoe laces, and counting objects pictured on a page (Levine 1997).
  • Allow secondary students to use a computer to replace paper and pencil writing could be extremely helpful.
  • Although it is important that the computer is used as a tool, and is not used only as a reward.

References and websites on this subject

  • Dobbs, D., (2007). The Gregarious Brain. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from
  • Genetic Science Learning Center, (1969). Williams Synr01ne: Learn Genetics. Retrieved from
  • Levine K., (1997). Williams Syndrom Information for Teacher. Education Resources Information Center. Retrieved from
  • Morris, Colleen. A. (2006). Williams Syndrome. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from
  • Reynolds, T., Zupanick, C.E., Dombeck, M., (2010). Genetic Causes of Intellectual Disabilities: Williams Syndrome. Community Counseling Services Inc.

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