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Child Development and Learning Difficulties



Home Learning Environment of children with Williams syndrome

By Admin, on 21 May 2021

(Erica Ranzato, Andrew Tolmie, Jo Van Herwegen)

Photo source: Unsplash_Annie Spratt

Home Learning Environment (HLE) refers to all of the activities and opportunities provided by parents to support their child’s overall academic success. It includes the frequency of home learning experiences, the availability of resources that promote learning, children’s participation in the learning activities and parents’ attitudes towards learning. Cross-cultural research on typically developing populations suggests that the HLE during early years has a pivotal role for the development of children’s literacy skills (Senechal & LeFevre, 2014) and mathematical abilities (Mutaf-Yildiz et al., 2020).

We investigated for the first time the HLE of 24 primary school children with Williams syndrome (WS), using a parental web-based survey and our findings showed that:

  • Literacy-based activities occurred more frequently than maths-based activities.
  • Parents provided a varied HLE characterized by maths activities supporting different skills such as counting, digit recognition, arithmetic, and numeracy.
  • Parents engaged with their child in both formal and informal[1] literacy and maths-based activities, but informal activities occurred more often when supporting counting and number recognition skills.
  • Parents had high expectations for their child’s literacy and number knowledge skills at the end of primary school, but their expectations for their child’s arithmetic skills were significantly lower compared to the other categories.
  • Parents that had higher expectations for their child were, in general, offering more frequent learning activities at home.
  • When compared to a group of parents of primary school children with Down syndrome (DS), parents of children with WS provided maths-based activities that supported counting and number recognition less often than parents of children with DS. This might be explained by the fact that, although parents of children with WS recognised their child’s difficulties with mathematics, they may underestimate the difficulties that their child might have specifically with counting.

Although the HLE for children with WS was varied and parents had overall high expectations for their child’s academic abilities, it is recommended that parents provide short (5-10 minutes) but frequent activities that focus on maths as well as literacy development. If you would like further inspiration for informal mathematical activities, have a look at our Math@home work (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/departments-and-centres/departments/psychology-and-human-development/child-development-and-learning-difficulties-lab/educational-technologies-and-apps/mathshome).

We would like to thank all the parents who completed the web-based survey.



[1] Formal activities are the activities used by parents with the specific purpose of developing literacy or mathematical skills. Informal activities consist of real-world tasks during which parents’ teaching happens without an explicit purpose and the learning is likely to be incidental, such supporting maths learning through playing board games that involve numbers.

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.