Volume 54, Issue 7 p. 754-762
Original Article

Learning to read in Williams syndrome and Down syndrome: syndrome-specific precursors and developmental trajectories

Ann Steele

Ann Steele

Attention, Brain and Cognitive Development Group, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, UK

Joint first authors

Search for more papers by this author
Gaia Scerif

Corresponding Author

Gaia Scerif

Attention, Brain and Cognitive Development Group, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, UK

Joint first authors

Correspondence

Gaia Scerif, Attention, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK; E-mail: [email protected]

Search for more papers by this author
Kim Cornish

Kim Cornish

Centre for Developmental Psychiatry & Psychology, School of Psychology & Psychiatry, Monash University, Australia

Search for more papers by this author
Annette Karmiloff-Smith

Annette Karmiloff-Smith

Birkbeck Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development, University of London, UK

Search for more papers by this author
First published: 29 May 2013
Citations: 57

Abstract

Background

In typical development, early reading is underpinned by language skills, like vocabulary and phonological awareness (PA), as well as taught skills like letter knowledge. Less is understood about how early reading develops in children with neurodevelopmental disorders who display specific profiles of linguistic strengths and weaknesses, such as Down syndrome (DS) and Williams syndrome (WS).

Methods

Early reading, letter knowledge, rhyme matching, phoneme matching and receptive vocabulary were assessed in 26 children with DS and 26 children with WS between 4 and 8 years, as well as in two groups of typically developing (TD) children matched on nonverbal mental age (NVMA controls) or reading (RA controls). Reading was also measured 1 year later in DS, WS and RA controls to assess reading growth and its longitudinal predictors.

Results

Despite poor PA and vocabulary, children with DS displayed good reading and letter knowledge, compared with NVMA controls. Performance of children with WS was equivalent to RA controls and superior to NVMA controls on all tasks. Longitudinal delays emerged in reading in both DS and WS compared with RA controls. Vocabulary was a significant longitudinal predictor of reading growth for all children, but, for both children with DS and WS, and unlike RA controls, letter knowledge and PA were not.

Conclusions

Children with DS and WS display atypical developmental patterns in the earliest stages of reading, further underlining the importance of cross-syndrome, longitudinal research, which tracks all levels of development in neurodevelopmental disorders. Identifying early syndrome-specific profiles of strengths and weaknesses underlying literacy development is critical for planning intervention programmes.