The Syntactical Ability of a Young Girl with Williams Syndrome

By Arapovikj, Diana; Pranjikj, Vishnja | The Journal of Special Education and Rehabilitation, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Syntactical Ability of a Young Girl with Williams Syndrome


Arapovikj, Diana, Pranjikj, Vishnja, The Journal of Special Education and Rehabilitation


Abstract

This research was carried out on a young girl with Williams syndrome, whose syntactical ability was tested longitudinally over a period of 22 months, from age 9 years and 3 months to 11 years and 1 month. The assumption was that the girl with Williams syndrome would have poorer syntactical ability than children with regular development, but similar to children with specific language impairment (SLI) and that in all tasks she would achieve better results in the final testing. Syntax was analyzed on the basis of the fundamental variable of repeating sentences, which consisted of five subvariables: literal repetition of sentences, sentences repeated with omissions, ungrammatical repetition of sentences, sentences with altered content, sentences not repeated. A statistical difference was found between the syntactical ability of the girl with Williams' syndrome and children with normal development in all tested sub-variables, and her results were the same as in children with specific language impairment. Moreover, in the final testing the girl achieved better results than in the initial test.

Key words: Williams' syndrome, syntactical ability, specific language impairment

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1. Introduction

1.1. Williams syndrome

Williams (or Williams - Beuren) syndrome is a rare neuro-developmental disorder, which affects the cognitive, behavioral and motor areas. Its incidence is 1:20,000 (1) to 1: 25,000 newborns (2). We can compare these figures with the incidence of some genetic disorders with which persons with Williams syndrome are most often compared. The incidence of X fragile syndrome is 1: 4 000 for males and 1: 6 000 for female newborns. The prevalence of autistic spectral disorder is 4.5: 10,000, the incidence in the USA 10:10000, whilst Down's syndrome has an incidence of 1:700 births (3).

1.2. The language of childern and adults with Williams syndrome

Small children with Williams syndrome have atypical linguistic development. They speak their first words before showing objects and all nonverbal activities are significantly weaker in relation to children with normal development (4). Most people with Williams syndrome express themselves in full sentences and a large proportion of them understand simple instructions, but only a small part of this population understand complex instructions without additional explanations (5). Children with Williams syndrome mainly master basic literacy but less than half of them master complex written linguistic skills such as writing sentences or constructing a simple letter. In children, but also in adults with Williams syndrome, verbal abilities are not on the same level as their general cognitive abilities. They are usual higher than the general IQ. The good linguistic abilities of these children are out of line with their lower level of intelligence (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).

The striking contrast between their cognitive deficit and their unusual linguistic ability indicates the need to consider language independently from cognition (12). In persons with Williams syndrome language is rich and fluent, and their phonology is relatively good.

Regarding linguistic processing, children with Williams syndrome have more difficulties processing non-verbal information than verbal. These difficulties in processing information occur after learning to speak. The assumption is that in children with Williams syndrome linguistic development takes place differently than in children with normal development (13). Although language is considered to be well-developed in relation to other skills, focal points of damage to the linguistic system have been shown in children with Williams syndrome (14). Major differences have been recorded in difficulties in understanding complex sentence structures such as the reflexive passive, interpretation of pronouns, or nouns and objects. In spontaneous speech some subjects showed difficulties with syntax and semantics, whilst others had problems with linguistic structure. …

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