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Child Development and Learning Difficulties



Archive for April, 2021

Naughty behaviour and punishment in children with WSWilliams syndrome, Learning, school,

By Admin, on 22 April 2021


Children with WS have mild to moderate learning difficulties meaning that on average they function at the same level as typically developing (TD) peers about half their chronological age (so a 7-year-old with WS will have the reasoning abilities of a 3- to 4-year-old TD child). This is also the case for their language comprehension abilities, despite the fact that they may use a lot more ‘age-appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate language’. This has a number of consequences when it comes to ‘naughty behaviour’ and punishments in WS.

1)    First of all, children with WS often crave social contact with peers and others but often lack the communication and social skills to initiate or continue a conversation in an appropriate way. This often results in children either relying on stereotypical questions (e.g., asking about the weather) or repetitive questions. Similar to younger TD children, another way children with WS may try and build social relationships is through mimicking other people’s behavior and language (e.g., trying to be funny through the use of toilet humour). Children with WS have a very good memory for the phonology of a word and thus they can copy words really well.

2)    Although they are able to copy many words even within the correct context, children with WS have limited language understanding and thus often they do not understand the words they are copying. We have repeatedly found this in our own research (see Naylor & Van Herwegen, 2012; Van Herwegen et al., 2013).

3)    As children with WS are developmentally delayed, they often do not understand why a certain type of behavior or word is wrong and they often also struggle to understand the relationship between their actions and the consequence or punishment, especially when young (mental age younger than 6 years old).

Therefore, when children with WS show ‘naughty’ behavior, it is important to:

1)    Keep in mind the overall delay in language and reasoning abilities in children with WS

2)    Clearly explain using simple language, why a certain type of behavior or language is inappropriate.

3)    Ensure that the punishment is developmentally appropriate to the child and can be understood. In my view, punishment should be kept to a minimum as children with WS find it difficult to see the relationship between actions and consequences.

4)    Provide the child with alternative strategies to obtain the same desired outcome: providing them with language and social skills that will help them build relationships using appropriate behavior and language.

5) To help children deal with their frustration you can use sensory toys that they keep in their pocket which they can pite, squeeze, hit,…Bouncing on trampolines are also very effective to bounce off any anger or a scream cushion where they can vent their anger and frustration into.

6) Model appropriate behaviours.




Van Herwegen, J., Dimitriou, D., & Rundblad, G. (2013). Development of novel metaphor and metonymy comprehension in typically developing children and Williams syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34, 1300-1311.

Naylor, L. & Van Herwegen, J. (2012). The production of figurative language in typically developing children and Williams Syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33(2), 711-716.