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Education Supports

It is important to have HIGH LEARNING EXPECTATIONS for children who have Williams Syndrome. Encourage use of the core educational curriculum and modify it in order to meet the individual needs of the child.

What you need to know

two boys

People who have WS have a unique cognitive profile with specific strengths and challenges. They can be challenging to teach due to good verbal and communication skills. These challenges may mask problems in other areas: understanding language, hyperactivity, difficulty with attention and visuospatial tasks.

Children who have WS can be included in their neighborhood schools. They may do well when extra supports are provided. Being with their peers is good for developing social and communication skills. Their team can make decisions about the need for specific instruction and pace.

Individuals who have Williams syndrome have a cognitive profile that is independent of IQ. Their verbal subtest scores are usually higher than visuospatial construction scores. Intellectual Disability (usually mild) occurs in 75% of individuals.

If the child has vision and/or hearing problems, good classroom seating is important.

General considerations

Strengths:

  • Concrete language
  • Concrete nonverbal reasoning
  • Verbal short term memory
  • Auditory rote memory
  • Social interactions/interpersonal skills 
  • Expressive vocal language
  • Short and long term auditory memory

Challenges:

  • Concentration
  • Distractible
  • Impulsive
  • Visuospatial development
  • Visual memory
  • Abstract reasoning
  • Perseveration
  • Reading nonverbal cues
Communication

Studies show that speech development is typical but delayed.

  • Individuals have good spoken language but poor comprehension.
  • They may have trouble learning grammar (plurals, past tense, etc.). Once they learn the concepts they can quickly catch up to peers. 
  • Verbal expression is better than understanding of speech. 
    • May recite instructions or stories word for word but may have trouble with basic concepts.
    • May echo or repeat with little understanding of what’s being said.
    • Answering a question oddly may mean they do not understand the conversation.
    • May use long words or expressions which may not fit the context. This occurs when talking about topics of interest.
    • May be difficult to take turns and maintain a conversation.
    • May chatter quite a bit, often at a superficial level.
    • May have conversations with adult-like style, and great vocabulary, phrases, and clichés.
    • May initiate conversation well.
    • Can maintain conversation flow.
Visuospatial, perceptual, and motor challenges
  • Individuals may have visuospatial problems. They may also have gross and fine motor coordination issues.
  • Difficult visual processing tasks include: discrimination, sequencing, and visual memory.
  • Visuospatial problems may lead to the following:
    • Slower in learning to sit and walk
    • Poor posture
    • Limitations of joint movements
    • Fine motor challenges leading to difficulty with tool writing and handwriting at all ages
    • Difficulty sorting, matching objects/shapes, tracing over lines
  • They may have difficulty with:
    • Riding a bike
    • Buttoning buttons
    • Cutting with a scissors
    • Holding a pencil
  • Motor and perceptual problems may include challenges with:
    • Seeing things in, or as if in, 3 dimensions
    • Eye hand coordination
    • Orienting body and objects in space
    • Judging distances and directions. This may result in:
      • Fear of heights and climbing
      • Hard time throwing
      • Difficulty on stairs and uneven surfaces (grass, gravel, sand)
      • Difficulty with jigsaw puzzles
      • Difficulty copying a “t” or “x” with blocks
Reading

Most people with WS learn to read at a basic or, in some cases, more advanced levels.

With reading and literacy, individuals who have WS generally have:

  • Good verbal skills
  • Good memory for sounds and words
  • Good auditory sequencing skills
  • Good short and long term auditory memory
  • Reading skills that match cognitive ability rather than language-related skills
  • Difficulty generalizing rules to new materials
  • Strength with concrete vocabulary
  • Difficulty with relational and conceptual vocabulary
Writing and spelling

Writing and spelling tend to be more difficult than reading. This is due to the visual and fine motor skill required for these tasks.

With writing and spelling, people who have WS may have:

  • Problems with forming letters, getting distracted (“spacing out”), and aligning words
    • May have difficulty keeping his/her place or skip sections
    • Progress may be slow
    • Need for practice and repetition
  • Fine motor delays make it challenging to hold a pencil/pen
    • Be sure to address seating, posture, hand position, pencil grip
    • Teach keyboarding and word processing skills
Math

Math can be challenging for individuals with WS.

  • Perceptual, visuospatial, and motor problems may make math and comprehension hard.
Music

Individuals who have WS may have musical interests and skills.

  • Many individuals with WS have an affinity for music.
  • They are often very moved by music.
  • Many have absolute and relative pitch.

What you can do

INTERVENTIONS to Support Academic Differences.
Each child should be looked at individually to find ideas that work for them. You may want to consider the following strategies and decide if any of these suggestions will work for the child.

The Williams Syndrome Association features educational strategies, information for teachers, and testing and evaluation strategies.

Help with communication
  • Direct instruction
  • Encourage oral expression so they become an active part of instruction
  • Simplify information
  • Use pictures and hands-on activities
  • Use verbal strengths to assist in learning spatial tasks
  • To help with vocabulary development:
    • Make concrete associations for unknown words
    • Encourage students to say and re-state their understanding
    • Teach multiple meanings of words
    • Build semantic webs
    • Teach rules and patterns
  • Use verbal skills to start and maintain social contact.
    • They may exaggerate and be dramatic.
    • Reciprocal conversation may be hard.
  •  Speech therapy is important to promote early development of speech and language.
  • Even though they may speak clearly, difficulty with conceptual and relational language, and pragmatics can occur. They may also have difficulty with grammatical comprehension, gender assessment, forming patterns of words and sentences, and oral fluency.
Help with visuospatial development
  • Extra help and practice
  • Reassurance
  • Occupational therapy
  • Minimize tracing and pencil work
  • If writing name is hard, use a stamp
  • Use of computer
Help with reading

Success in reading comprehension requires comprehending words and grammatical structures in the text.

  • Can address these issues in speech and reading therapy
  • Need help in comprehension strategies, and in summarization, question generating, graphic organization
  • Teach reading comprehension skills directly
  • Self question techniques to monitor comprehension

When teaching reading, rely on auditory skills and phonetic approach.

  • Phonics should be integrated into reading and writing.
  • Learn phonics rules by reading and writing vs. memorizing
  • Teach a few skills at a time
  • Use mnemonic devices

Think about how to present information.

  • Can be easily distracted by extraneous visual stimuli.
  • Use books with simple pictures or outline drawings, which are less likely to distract.
  • Lots of color and pictures may be too over stimulating.
  • Little information on each page
  • Need explicit instruction and extensive practice
  • Introduce materials related to interests

Encourage verbalization.

Teach organization and structure of paragraphs.

Teach signal words indicating transition.

Help with writing and spelling
  • Relate work to interests
    • trace cars, trains, or anything of high interest
  • Use computers
  • Dictate stories and/or homework
  • Brief daily practice to improve handwriting rate
  • Teach use of verbal self directions
  • Focus on only one aspect of writing at a time
  • Teach traditional words
  • Teach patterns for writing paragraphs
  • Provide purpose and structure
  • Trace over and copy letters
  • Address seating, posture, hand position, pencil grip
  • Teach keyboarding and word processing skills
Help with math
  • Work at their pace
  • Use repetition
  • Use a digital watch for telling time
  • Use real coins
    • Take child to cafeteria or book sale to buy items
  • Use manipulatives
  • Use concrete examples
  • Separate the writing of numbers from teaching of concepts
  • Use lined paper or squared paper to help align numbers in addition
  • Use music to teach math (i.e. when counting)
  • You may want additional information about your child’s disability, early intervention, school services, therapy, local policies, transportation, and much more. Every state in the USA has at least one Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) to offer families just this kind of information. To find your state’s center, go to the Center for Parent Information and Resources.