Early Reading Ability in Children with Williams Syndrome: The Roles of Method of Reading Instruction and Visual-Spatial Skills

Early Reading Ability in Children with Williams Syndrome: The Roles of Method of Reading Instruction and Visual-Spatial Skills

First Author: Cláudia Cardoso-Martins -- Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
Additional authors/chairs: 
Carolyn B. Mervis -- University of Louisville
Keywords: Literacy Skills, Reading instruction, Williams syndrome, Phonological processing, visual-spatial skills
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Despite their relatively strong spoken language abilities, children with Williams syndrome (WS) frequently have difficulty learning to read and often read below the level expected for their overall intellectual abilities. One possible reason for this is that children with intellectual disabilities frequently are taught to read by sight-word methods, a circumstance that might compromise the ability of children with WS to use their relatively good phonological skills to learn to read. It also is possible that the moderate-to-severe visual-spatial deficits typically shown by children with WS adversely affect their ability to learn to read by hindering the identification and remembrance of letters and letter patterns in words. The present study investigated these hypotheses. Method: 9- to 10-year-olds with WS learning to read by either a sight-word (N=23) or a phonics approach (N=20) completed tests of reading and mathematical achievement, in addition to vocabulary, nonverbal reasoning, visual-spatial, and phonological processing assessments. Results: As expected, the children in the phonics group performed significantly better than the children in the sight-word group on tests of single-word reading, pseudoword decoding, and reading comprehension, even after differences in vocabulary, nonverbal reasoning, visual-spatial, and phonological processing skills were taken into account. In contrast, method of reading instruction was not significantly related to mathematical ability. Finally, visual-spatial skills contributed significantly and specifically to variation in both word and pseudoword reading ability. Conclusions: Early reading ability in children with WS is modulated by variations in method of reading instruction and in visual-spatial skills.