What is Williams Syndrome?

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 disabilities. These often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music.

WS affects 1 in 10,000 people worldwide – an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States and 200 in New Zealand. It is known to occur equally in both males and females and in every culture.

Unlike disorders that can make connecting with your child difficult, children with Williams Syndrome tend to be social, friendly and endearing. Parents often say the joy and perspective a child with WS brings into their lives had been unimaginable.

But there are major struggles as well. Many babies may have life-threatening cardiovascular problems. 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.

Just as important are opportunities for social interaction. As people with Williams Syndrome mature – beyond the structure of school and family activities – they often experience intense isolation which can lead to depression. They are extremely sociable and experience the normal need to connect with others; however people with Williams Syndrome often don’t process nuanced social cues and this makes it difficult to form lasting relationships.