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Overlap With the Autism Spectrum in Young Children With Williams Syndrome

Klein-Tasman, Bonita P., PhD*; Phillips, Kristin D., PhD; Lord, Catherine, PhD; Mervis, Carolyn B., PhD§; Gallo, Frank J., PhD*

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: August 2009 - Volume 30 - Issue 4 - p 289-299
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181ad1f9a
Original Article

Objective: The sociocommunicative abnormalities of young children with Williams syndrome (WS) with limited language were compared with those of children with clinical diagnoses of autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder–Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), or nonspectrum developmental disability.

Method: Participants were 30 children with WS and individually matched groups of participants with autism (n = 28), PDD-NOS (n = 17), and mixed etiology nonspectrum developmental disabilities (n = 16). The autism, PDD-NOS, and mixed etiology groups were matched individually to the children with WS for age, sex, and developmental level. All participants were administered the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule Module 1 and the Mullen Scales of Early Learning.

Results: As a group, children with WS with limited language showed fewer sociocommunicative abnormalities than children with autism, about the same level as children with PDD-NOS, and more abnormalities in reciprocity social interaction than participants in the mixed etiology group. Examination of the subgroup of participants with WS matched and compared with children with PDD-NOS indicated that half of the children showed fewer abnormalities than their individual matches with PDD-NOS, whereas half of the children with WS showed more abnormalities than their matches with PDD-NOS.

Conclusion: Sociocommunicative difficulties are present for many children with WS and overlap with the autism spectrum. The results of this investigation suggest that these abnormalities are not accounted for by developmental delay alone, and care should be taken to avoid diagnostic overshadowing in young children with WS.

From the *Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee; †Department of Neurology, Division of Neuropsychology, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI; ‡University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; §Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY.

Received September 2008; accepted April 2009.

This research was supported by grants NIMH R03 MH069400 and a University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee Graduate School Research Committee Award (to B.P.K.T.), grants NIMH R01 MH066469 and NIMH K05 MH01196–01 (to C.E. L.), and NICHD R37 HD29957 and NINDS R01 NS35102 (to C.B.M.).

Address for reprints: Bonnie Klein-Tasman, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, PO Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201; e-mail:

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.