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Williams Syndrome victims to develop musical talents at UConn (Released: 6/9/98)

by Luis Mocete, Office of University Communications.

Storrs , Conn. -- After ten years, Harriet Lawson has finally found a program that will teach her 24-year-old son Christian how to play drums without focusing on the fact that he has Williams Syndrome.

On June 21, Christian will enroll in Music and Minds, a 10-day program at the University of Connecticut for those with Williams Syndrome who are interested in developing their musical talent.

"I hear music in my head all day," says Christian, "and can't wait to play music at UConn with real professors and other people with Williams Syndrome."

Most people with Williams Syndrome have below average general intellectual capabilities.

"When children with special needs are put into an educational setting, attention is placed on their deficit," says Robin Schader, a graduate student at UConn who is one of the coordinators of the program. "Music and Minds will focus on their abilities and not on their deficiencies."

Fourteen young adults from ages 17 to 28 from all across the country will be working with music professors and doctoral students from the University through individual and group lessons and classroom settings as well.

The program will also give the students an opportunity to make some friends, says Sally Reis, a professor of educational psychology who is one of the co-director's of the program.

"These are very lonely people," says Reis. "They don't meet too many people who are like them because Williams Syndrome affects so few people."

One in 20,000 to be exact.

"So being involved in Music and Minds is wonderful for them," Schader says, "because they are in a group where people who have similar characteristics."

Victims all have similar facial features, child-like, with small, upturned noses and broad mouths with full lips. They are often described as bearing a resemblance to pixies or elves.

Remarkably, they are very verbal and have strong long-term memory skills, Reis says. The small amount of research which has been conducted indicates that many children with Williams Syndrome display a talent and passion for music.

The program that we are offering, she says, will not only give the young adults an opportunity to improve their musical talent but "we are hoping that we will get some insight into what kinds of musical experiences might enable these young people to increase their learning of other subjects," she says. "As educators we have to get an understanding of how to better serve their unique needs."