Williams syndrome is a genetic condition that can cause development, learning and health problems. Williams syndrome can’t be cured, but treatment can help manage the symptoms, especially if started early.
What is Williams syndrome?
Williams syndrome is a genetic condition present from birth that occurs because a small piece of chromosome 7 does not form properly after conception.
Symptoms and signs of Williams syndrome
Williams syndrome can cause delays in a child's development and learning. They can have problems with:
- speech, with the first word coming as late as 3 years of age
- motor skills such as walking and toilet training
- doing activities such as drawing or puzzles
However, children with Williams syndrome often have well-developed skills in language and music, as well as outgoing, social personalities.
They might have a distinctive appearance — a broad forehead, a small, upturned nose, a wide mouth with full lips, a small chin and problems with their teeth. They might also have weak muscles.
Children might show certain behaviours, including:
- anxiety and phobias
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- being very friendly and trusting strangers
- not having inhibitions, difficulty reading social cues
- having lots of tantrums
People with Williams syndrome are likely to develop health problems in later life, including problems with their heart, thyroid gland, diabetes, vision or hearing, or too much calcium in their blood.
Williams syndrome diagnosis
Williams syndrome is diagnosed by observing and examining the child and also by using genetic testing. A doctor may notice the distinctive physical features, heart problems and developmental delay, and then use genetic testing to confirm the diagnosis.
Living with Williams syndrome
There is no cure for Williams syndrome and treatment focuses on managing each child’s symptoms.
Early intervention is important in order to get the right support. If you have a child with the condition, this will usually include your child seeing a mix of health professionals such as paediatricians, speech pathologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
Williams syndrome and adult life
People with Williams syndrome can live active and fulfilling adult lives. Some people will find paid work, and some will be able to live semi-independently.
Where to get help for Williams syndrome
Williams Syndrome Australia has a range of information and useful resources.
In Australia, some states have specific support groups for people with Williams syndrome, their families and carers.
- New South Wales — Williams Syndrome Australia (02) 9295 8359 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- South Australia — Williams Syndrome Association of South Australia (08) 7329 5409 or 0424 787 966 or email: email@example.com
- Victoria — Williams Syndrome Family Support Group or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Western Australia — Williams Syndrome Association of Western Australia 0417 946 007 or email: email@example.com
The Raising Children Network can help you understand how to use the health and disability service system.
You might be able to get financial support through the NDIS or the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative, depending on where you live.
Visit our genetic disorders guide to learn more about genes, types of genetic disorders and where to go for help and more information.
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Last reviewed: September 2018