Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Music & Minds: Using a Talent Development Approach for Young Adults with Williams Syndrome

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Music & Minds: Using a Talent Development Approach for Young Adults with Williams Syndrome

Article excerpt

Smiling, sociable, and often both musically interested and adept, persons with Williams syndrome (WS) have only recently been recognized as having specific abilities that differentiate them from others with disabilities. To investigate these abilities, 16 individuals with WS were identified and asked to participate in a 10-day residential summer program called Music & Minds. The Music & Minds program was based on the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM), a talent development model usually implemented in programs for the gifted and talented (Renzulli, 1977, 1994; Renzulli & Reis, 1985, 1997)that provides enrichment experiences for students by focusing on individual learning styles, prior experiences, patterns of talent development, and educational needs. Music & Minds was designed to provide appropriate enrichment experiences based on the specific strengths and talents, as well as interests of the participants, because research studies in a variety of fields have shown that learning is more productive and enjoyable when a person is able to work in an area of his or her own selection (Baum, Renzulli, & Hebert, 1995; Bloom 1985; Renzulli, 1977; Renzulli & Reis, 1985, 1997). The success of Music & Minds resulted in a follow-up study during the subsequent summer with 20 participants, including 11 of the original group. In this study, researchers examined patterns of talent development in music, as well as the efficacy of providing a talent development summer program to persons with WS (Reis et al., in press). This article provides a summary of information about the program, including the enhancement of academic deficits through the use of an enrichment approach to talent development focusing on the musical strengths and interests of the participants.


Since its identification in 1961, Williams syndrome (WS), called a "beautiful mystery" by neurolinguist Ursula Bellugi (Bellugi, Bihrle, Jernigan, Trauner, & Doherty, 1990), has emerged from obscurity to fascinate researchers, physicians, educators, and others. This rare congenital disorder is characterized by a unique pattern of asymmetric abilities that transcends traditional theories of intelligence and cognitive impairment. In describing an individual with WS from a father's point of view, Howard Lenhoff wrote:

   My daughter Gloria, now 40, has a rich lyric soprano
   voice, and can play on the full-sized piano
   accordion, with ease and embellishments, almost
   any song she hears. She has a repertoire of about
   2,000 songs and sings in over 20 foreign languages.
   Yet, like most individuals with WS, she
   cannot add 5 + 3, nor can she get along independently.
   (Lenhoff, 1996, p. 1).

Unfortunately, persons with WS are only labeled as disabled, and previous research has focused on their genetic, medical, linguistic, and psychological deficits. Educational programs have generally been developed to address the disabilities of this group and, therefore, have failed to provide opportunities for the specific identification and development of the unique musical interests and talents observed in many persons with WS.

The incidence of WS is estimated as 1 in 25,000 (Bellugi, Lichtenberger, Jones, Lai, & St. George, 2000). Williams syndrome is evident at birth, occurs in all ethnic groups, affects males and females equally, and has been reported throughout the world (Pober & Dykens, 1993). Individuals with WS typically have cardiovascular abnormalities and short stature (Udwin, Yule, & Martin, 1987). Einfield and Hall (1994) described persons with WS as having:

   the so-called "elfin" faces, with an upturned
   nose, sometimes called retrousse with a rather
   bow-shaped mouth. Abnormal dentition is always
   present. A particular iris pattern [in the
   eyes] is present in many persons with WS and is
   described as star shaped or stellate. … 
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