Williams syndrome (WS) is a genetic condition that is present at birth and can affect anyone. It is characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning challenges. These often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music.
Williams syndrome is caused by the spontaneous deletion of 26-28 genes on chromosome #7. The deletion occurs in either the egg or the sperm used to form the child with Williams syndrome. Accordingly, the deletion is present at the time of conception. It is likely that the elastin gene deletion accounts for many of the physical features of Williams syndrome. Some medical and developmental problems are probably caused by deletions of additional genetic material near the elastin gene on chromosome #7. The extent of these deletions may vary among individuals. In most families, the child with Williams syndrome is the only one to have the condition in his or her entire extended family. However, the individual with Williams syndrome has a 50% chance of passing the disorder on to each of his or her children.
But there are major struggles as well. Many babies have life-threatening cardiovascular problems. Children with WS need costly and ongoing medical care and early interventions (such as speech or occupational therapy) that may not be covered by insurance or state funding. As they grow, they struggle with things like spatial relations, numbers, and abstract reasoning, which can make daily tasks a challenge. As adults, most people with Williams syndrome will need supportive housing to live to their fullest potential. Many adults with WS contribute to their communities as volunteers or paid employees; often working at assisted living homes for senior citizens, hospitals and libraries, or as store greeters or veterinary aides.
Common features of Williams syndrome include:
Characteristic facial appearance
Most young children with Williams syndrome are described as having similar facial features. These features include a small upturned nose, long philtrum (upper lip length), wide mouth, full lips, small chin, and puffiness around the eyes. Blue and green-eyed children with Williams syndrome can have a prominent “starburst” or white lacy pattern on their iris. Facial features become more apparent with age.
Heart and blood vessel problems
Hypercalcemia (elevated blood calcium levels)
Low birth-weight / slow weight gain
Feeding difficulty (generally limited to the early years)
Irritability (colic during infancy)
Hyperacusis (sensitive hearing)
Overly friendly (excessively social) personality
Developmental delay, learning challenges and attention deficit disorder
Most people with Williams syndrome will have mild to severe learning differences and cognitive challenges. Young children with Williams syndrome often experience developmental delays. Milestones such as walking, talking and toilet training are often achieved somewhat later than is considered normal. Distractibility is a common problem in mid-childhood, which can improve as the children get older.
Older children and adults with Williams syndrome often demonstrate intellectual “strengths and weaknesses.” There are some intellectual areas (such as speech, long term memory, and social skills) in which performance is quite strong, while other intellectual areas (such as fine motor and spatial relations) show significant weakness.
For additional information: www.williams-syndrome.org
The Williams Syndrome Association (WSA) was formed in 1982 by, and for, families of individuals with Williams syndrome.
The WSA is the most comprehensive resource for people and families living with Williams syndrome as well as doctors, researchers and educators. The WSA provides resources, support and the latest medical information to help your child today and throughout his/her life. By joining, you’ll become part of the largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of people living with Williams syndrome.