Mathematical abilities in Williams syndrome across development: A longitudinal study

Principal Supervisor: Dr Jo Van Herwegen (IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society)

Co-Supervisor: Prof Michael Thomas (Birkbeck University College)

Project Description

The proposed studentship project will involve secondary data analysis and collection of new data to examine longitudinal trajectories of mathematical development and relationships to executive functioning, visuo-spatial and language abilities in individuals with Williams syndrome. It will use data from the WISDOM project (See as well as involve new data collection. The project will take place in the context of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience, a cross-institution research centre spanning IOE and BBK, which has an active research programme in linking the cognitive neuroscience of neurodevelopmental disorders with SEN pedagogy.


Good mathematical skills are important for everyday life and independence. Good mathematical abilities rely on domain-specific abilities related to maths as well as a wide range of domain-general abilities such as visuo-spatial skills, language and executive functioning abilities.

Many children with the genetic disorder Williams syndrome (WS) are delayed in their mathematical abilities and low mathematical abilities may impact on their level of independence. Variations in developmental trajectories in genetic disorders shed light on the constraints that shape typical development, and may point towards methods or timing of best interventions for low performance in neurotypical children. However, most studies so far have relied on cross-sectional data, rather than longitudinal data. In addition, nothing is currently known about the individual differences and how different developmental trajectories for mathematical abilities are driven by variations in domain general abilities.


The current PhD studentship will examine longitudinal developmental trajectories of mathematical abilities in WS from infancy onwards, how these are influenced by domain-general abilities, how cross-sectional trajectories compare to longitudinal ones, as well as what factors (e.g., SES, type of education) influence individual differences in longitudinal trajectories for mathematical development.

Outcomes A better understanding of development in WS will allow us to predict particular educational needs earlier, leading to more effective teaching and learning systems and develop a better understanding of how better to support people with WS across the whole lifespan. Understanding of these developmental trajectories will also provide further theoretical insight into the foundations of mathematical abilities in general, and sources of variation in developmental trajectories.

Subject areas/Keywords

Mathematical development, Williams syndrome, SEND, education, Longitudinal.

Key References

1Van Herwegen, J., Purser, H., & Thomas, M.S.C. (2019). Development in Williams syndrome: Progress, prospects and challenges. Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 3, 343-346.

3Van Herwegen, J. & Simms, V. (2020). Mathematical development in Williams syndrome: A systematic review. Research in Developmental Disabilities. Special Issue

Further details about the project may be obtained from

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