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 or signs of Williams syndrome
Williams syndrome can cause health problems, including heart disease, and delays in a child’s development and learning.
Children with Williams syndrome often have well-developed skills in language and music, as well as outgoing, social personalities.
People with Williams syndrome might have 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 with Williams syndrome might have developmental delays or difficulty 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.
Particular behaviours of children with Williams syndrome can include:
- anxiety and phobias
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Williams syndrome diagnosis
Williams syndrome is diagnosed by observation and genetic testing. Your doctor may notice the particular physical features, heart problems and developmental delay associated with Williams syndrome, 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. This usually includes 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. But new health issues can arise, with anxiety, depression, diabetes, hearing difficulties, dental problems and gastrointestinal problems all more common than in other adults of the same age.
Where to get help for Williams syndrome
Williams Syndrome Association (USA) 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 (IHC) Association of New South Wales - tel: (02) 9332 1361
- South Australia: Williams Syndrome Association of South Australia
- Victoria: Williams Syndrome Family Support Group of Victoria
- Western Australia: Williams Syndrome Association of Western Australia (Facebook group).
The Raising Children Network’s Disability Services Pathfinder can help you understand how to use the health and disability services 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.
Last reviewed: October 2016