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Williams Syndrome: UD Research Pinpoints Language And Learning Traits Of Those With The Disorder

People with Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting an estimated one among every 25,000 individuals, are frequently described as having extraordinary musical and verbal skills, despite a profound inability to conceptualize spatial information.

Yet, research at the University of Delaware--to be presented Nov. 6 in Boston, Mass.--shows that language use by children with Williams Syndrome may, in fact, be directly affected by their cognitive deficits related to spatial events.

And, studies of eye movement among Williams Syndrome children, scheduled for presentation Nov. 20 in Dallas, Texas, suggest that some of this spatial deficit may result, at least in part, from "their tendency to allocate attention to smaller regions of space than normal children, as well as their difficulties encoding an object's properties and location," says Barbara Landau, a professor of psychology and director of UD's Language and Cognition Laboratory.

The UD research, directed by Landau, in collaboration with research specialist Andrea L. Zukowski, Prof. James Hoffman and others, is shedding light on how Williams Syndrome affects the brain and cognitive development. Ultimately, she says, a better understanding of the disorder "may suggest strategies to help people with Williams Syndrome organize their world and learn more effectively, by emphasizing their strengths."

Individuals with Williams Syndrome might be unable to solve simple mathematical problems, and they can't draw a circle that is half red and half green. Surprisingly, however, some adults with the disorder have been known to memorize thousands of songs in many different languages. Understanding such "uneven cognitive profiles" is at the heart of Landau's research.

At the Boston University Conference on Language Development on Nov. 6, Zukowski will describe a study of spatial language skills among eight children with Williams Syndrome (ages 7 to 14), who were compared with 12 non-affected children (ages
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Contact: Ginger Pinholster
gingpin@udel.edu
302-831-6408
University of Delaware
6-Nov-1998


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