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Child Development and Learning Difficulties



Mathematical abilities in Williams Syndrome and future directions

By Admin, on 11 May 2023

Blog by Unta Taiwo and Stella Xu

Mathematical skills are an essential part of everyday living. From preparing a meal, setting a table, planning a daily schedule, or embarking on your weekly shop. We need to understand the quantities we need when we’re hosting dinner with friends or deciding how many apples to buy for a weekly supply. Other calculations come in handy when we are working out how much to pay for a bus fare, or a birthday present. Numerical skills, also referred to as mathematical abilities, prepare us for independence in our adult lives. Research has shown that, generally speaking, individuals with Williams syndrome can recognise and count smaller numbers. However, when it comes to comparing quantities and estimating the size of a set of objects, individuals with Williams syndrome are behind typically developing children (Van Herwegen & Simms, 2020). For example, children and adults with WS find it difficult to identify where numbers go along a number line (Simms et al., 2020) or understanding how sets of objects relate to each other (which one is larger/ has fewer) (Van Herwegen et al., 2020). Understanding how numbers relate to each other or what they mean forms the basis for more complex maths skills like arithmetic and can help identify mistakes or check answers when solving mathematical problems. For example, have you ever used a calculator to add large numbers and then decided that you must have made a mistake? It is your understanding of how numbers relate and what they mean, i.e. your Number Sense abilities, that help you estimate that the result on the calculator was wrong. Current evidence suggests that Number Sense abilities are delayed and may develop atypically in children with WS from infancy onwards.

It is important to understand the specific difficulties related to the development of mathematical abilities in individuals with Williams syndrome so that we can think about targeted interventions and guidance for parents and practitioners to improve learning outcomes. In the Child Development and Learning Difficulties (CDLD) lab we have a number of studies with the aim to better understand the specific strengths and difficulties associated with mathematical development in Williams syndrome:

HoME intervention study:

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This intervention involves parents to deliver very short foundational maths games in the home environment over two 5-week blocks. Evidence from previous research (Van Herwegen et al., 2018) has shown that these games improved maths outcomes for children with mathematical learning difficulties. Each game is designed to be flexible to family dynamics, so games might be adapted to include siblings or other relatives. These carefully designed activities can be played in and around the house, including around the dinner table, whilst having a bath, walking to school, or getting ready for bed. Each programme will involve a degree of multi-sensory activities for engagement that tap into tactile, auditory and visual senses.


We are looking for parents of children with Down syndrome or Williams syndrome aged between 5-11 years to take part in this intervention study. This intervention will be starting in the new year. If you are interested taking part in this study and would like more information, please get in touch with Unta (unta.taiwo.14@ucl.ac.uk).


Study on development of mathematical abilities

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Currently very little is known about the predictors and the longitudinal development of mathematics in individuals with Williams syndrome. This study is therefore focusing on investigating which cognitive abilities at infancy may affect later math performance at school age. The results of this study will inform parents and practitioners on what areas to work on to improve mathematical achievement in school, as well as everyday life experiences. Part of this research will be pulling together findings from different UK labs that focuses on Williams syndrome, so we can better understand the long-term development of mathematics.


We are looking for parents of children with Williams syndrome aged between 5-18 years to take part of this study. This study will begin in June. If you are interested in taking part and would like to know more, please get in touch with Stella (stella.xu.21@ucl.ac.uk).






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