Most individuals with Williams syndrome have an affinity to music. They are touched by music in ways not usually seen in the general population. It is quite common for those with Williams syndrome to be reduced to tears by classical music, disturbed by music played in minor chords or moved to dance and laugh by playful and "happy" music.
The affinity for music in people with Williams syndrome, especially their sense of rhythm, ability to remember lyrics and hearing sensitivity can used to help overcome weaknesses. Music therapy is often used in the educational setting to help with math skills and other concepts.
Sometimes the natural affinity for music progresses to excellent music ability. Children may benefit from non-traditional (most individuals play by ear) lessons in piano, drums, voice, or guitar.
This section is intended to help educators understand the musical link in Williams syndrome that has been documented through studies, documentaries, and special programs by experts in the fields of Cognitive Neuroscience, Educational Psychology, Developmental and Cell Biology, Special Education, and others.
What does it mean to have an "affinity" towards music? And how might this effect a child's general education?
WHAT IS AN AFFINITY TO MUSIC?
The definition of the word affinity is: "A natural attraction, liking, or feeling of kinship." This definition fits well the relationship between Williams syndrome and music. People with Williams syndrome talk often about a natural feeling that music is part of their being.
People with Williams syndrome often appear drawn towards music and things musical. For some, music can help overcome obstacles they might not otherwise overcome. For example, some children with Williams syndrome have been known to overcome their acute sensitivity to loud noises in order to join others on a dance floor where music is playing at levels that would otherwise bring them to tears.
The same can sometimes be said for children with Williams syndrome in a classroom. They are often able to stay on task during a "musical" activity, for much longer times than would be possible during non-music activities. This can be an important piece of information for an educator who is working with a Williams child who has a limited attention span.
It is important to note, however, that "affinity" does not equal "ability" (although that is the case in some instances). The musical link with Williams syndrome refers to cognitive, emotional and psychological characteristics. Individuals with Williams syndrome usually enjoy participating in musical activities, whether or not, they show increased musical abilities.
WILL A CHILD WITH WS BE MUSICALLY GIFTED
Individuals with Williams syndrome (as a whole) seem to have a higher rate of musicality, and in some instances musical ability, than the general population. Among those who have increased levels of musicality there are people with Williams syndrome who are musically gifted. But many others who are not. It is the affinity and love of music, rather than musical "giftedness" that appears to be a common trait in individuals with Williams syndrome.
Additionally, recent research suggests that the percentage of individuals with Williams syndrome who have perfect pitch is higher than the percentage among individuals in the general population.
CAN THE MUSICALITY OF A CHILD WITH WS BE AFFECTED THROUGH EDUCATION?
Yes. Due to the wide range of early childhood delays and medical problems it is possible that many common Williams syndrome traits will only emerge after time. For example, a child with WS who appears to have little interest in music at age three may exhibit a high level of interest and/or ability at age 11.
A child's musicality can potentially be brought out by circumstances, and thus affected by their educational experiences.
SHOULD A CHILD WITH WILLIAMS SYNDROME BE ASSESSED FOR MUSIC THERAPY TREATMENT?
As a general rule, you will probably want a child with Williams syndrome assessed by a Music therapist. The published link between music and cognition in individuals with Williams syndrome indicates that this assessment is appropriate.
The following questions may help members of an IEP team determine the appropriateness of a music therapy assessment. Note: a "no" response to one or more questions does not necessarily mean that a child is inappropriate for a music therapy assessment. If disagreements or questions arise, a music therapist should be contacted.
- Can the child be motivated to attempt tasks through the use of music?
- Can the child by motivated to complete tasks through the use of music?
- Could the child benefit from the use of additional communication modalities?
- Does the child initiate interaction with music in the classroom or at home?
- Does the child retain information conveyed in songs more easily than information conveyed in spoken interchanges?
An assessment for music therapy as a related service should, at minimum, include a review of the child's current IEP, interviews with key IEP team members, and an assessment process/instrument that provides specific data as to whether or not music therapy makes a significant difference in a child's ability to benefit from his or her IEP.
HOW WILL MUSIC THERAPY BENEFIT A CHILD WITH WS?
There is good likelihood that children with WS will benefit from music therapy. Music therapy uses an interactive musical setting to achieve specific educational goals. The affinity toward music of a child with Williams syndrome will often allow them to be more engaged and have a higher retention of success, when difficult tasks are reinforced with music.
However, as with any type of therapy, not all children respond in the same way. For this reason, it is very important to have a thorough Music therapy assessment performed on the child with Williams syndrome. This assessment should be performed by a Board-Certified Music Therapist. It is also helpful when the evaluation includes time with the child in the current classroom. The assessment should take place prior to the IEP meeting.
If Music therapy is deemed appropriate for a child with Williams syndrome, the Music therapist should become a part of the child's IEP team. As with all therapies, whether or not music therapy is appropriate at the time of initial assessment, periodic reassessment is recommended.
RELATED PUBLISHED ARTICLES
Check out resources regarding Williams syndrome deal primarily with the relationship between cognition and music in children with Williams syndrome.