Is Williams Syndrome a Form of Autism?

Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2021
is Williams Syndrome a form of autism
Williams Syndrome (WS) is not an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), although there is some overlap between the two conditions

Williams Syndrome (WS) is not an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), although there is some overlap between the two conditions. WS and ASD have opposite characteristics in the social domain, but share some common behavioral and cognitive deficiencies. 

WS and ASD are genetically based neurodevelopmental disorders with distinct social manifestations. People with Williams Syndrome are highly friendly and engaged, while people with autism have fundamental difficulties in social reciprocity and communication. 

However, it is unclear which genes are responsible for the observed differences and similarities.


  • Delayed verbal abilities (delayed first word)
  • Poor grammatical comprehension
  • Takes language literally
  • Sensory processing difficulties
  • Likes repetition and structure
  • General anxiety
  • Delayed motor development
  • Local processing bias


Table: Differences between Williams Syndrome and ASD
Characteristics Williams Syndrome Autism spectrum disorders
Puzzles Poor visuospatial abilities Good visuospatial abilities
Anxiety Low social anxiety High social anxiety
Social approach High social approach Low social approach
Eye contact Seeking eye contact or staring at faces Avoiding eye contact
Language Minor stereotyped language Major stereotyped language
Intonation Generally typical intonation Atypical intonation
Echolalia (meaningless speech repetition) Limited echolalia characteristics More echolalia characteristics
Response Responds to name Does not respond to name
Imagination Good at imaginary play Poor at imaginary play

What are the characteristics of Williams Syndrome?

Williams Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a microdeletion on chromosome 7. Because Williams Syndrome is accompanied by no visible brain deformations, it is difficult to link the behavioral patterns to a specific part of the brain. 

Other biological deficiencies include differences in elastin and calcitonin levels, resulting in heart problems and other biological manifestations. Children with WS:

  • Are very talkative and have excellent linguistic skills, but their speech is disassociated and jumps from one issue to the next
  • Have significant difficulties with spatial processing
  • Can recognize objects but have a hard time replicating them as a whole
  • Have excellent facial recognition abilities; they can even distinguish reversed faces
  • Appear to be experts in the field of mental theory
  • Have trouble duplicating objects, but they have no trouble tracing objects, ruling out a motor skill issue
  • Appear to be conscious of their own errors 
  • Have significant problems with arithmetic, spatial cognition, and problem solving, but have the capacity to discuss other people's beliefs.
  • Appear to have a social knowledge deficit, lacking control over their speech in social interactions, but otherwise perform well in areas that are thought to support social knowledge.

WS cannot be cured, but its symptoms, developmental delays, learning problems and behaviors can be treated. A variety of experts collaborate to create a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the needs of each child. 

Doctors should check on affected patients regularly to monitor problems (especially heart problems and hypertension). If such issues arise, they must be addressed as soon as possible. Nonphysical treatment frequently involves teaching patients life skills that will eventually enable them to live on their own or with minimal supervision.

What are the characteristics of ASD?

ASD is a group of behavioral disorders that make it difficult for a person to interact with others or communicate effectively. Autism does not have a clear cause. There are several possible explanations, ranging from genetic flaws to environmental factors.

  • People with autism engage in self-isolation (isolating from the outside world) and very repetitive behavior that appears to have a calming effect on them.
  • Savant-like behavior is associated with ASD (such as overdeveloped mathematical abilities) in rare cases.
  • They are typically good in terms of language, particularly morphology, although they lack certain aspects of semantics and pragmatics.
  • They do not appear to lack the requisite (formal and conceptual) semantic representations. Rather, they have difficulty summoning the proper interpretation (possibly because of a lack of constraints on their semantic interpretations).

There are many different types of treatments available for ASD, including:

  • Auditory training
  • Discrete trial training
  • Facilitated communication
  • Occupational therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Sensory integration
Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2021
Spectrum Wiki. Williams’ Syndrome:

Autism Research Institute. Related Disorders

Niego A, Benítez-Burraco A. Autism and William’s Syndrome: Dissimilar Socio-Cognitive Profiles With Similar Patterns of Abnormal Gene Expression in the Blood. Autism. 2021 Feb;25(2):464-489.