Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 15: 575–587, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Investigating reading development in atypical populations:
The case of Williams syndrome
Institute of Child Health, London, UK
Abstract. This paper presents a review of current knowledge concerning the reading skills
of children and adults with Williams syndrome. The paper begins by highlighting the metho-
dological issues surrounding research on reading in atypical populations and discusses the
issue of comparison groups. It proceeds to review evidence from studies that have described
the reading proﬁle observed in Williams syndrome in relation to the documented cognitive and
linguistic proﬁle, and speciﬁcally examines the relationship between reading and phonological
skills. The paper advocates a more dynamic developmental approach to the study of reading
in atypical populations.
Key words: Atypical development, Phonetic cues, Phonological awareness, Reading,
There has, to date, been relatively little research into reading development
in atypical (learning disabled) populations. This is largely because, until
recently, educational opportunities for people with learning disabilities have
been based on an assumption that they would be unable to learn to read. Yet,
the attainment of literacy is no less important for a person with a learning
disability than it is for anyone else. Literacy is a critical part of independent
living and contributes to general quality of life. There are a number of reasons
why studying reading in atypical development may be important. Firstly,
such research is an important part of devising the most appropriate teaching
strategies. Secondly, learning more about the ways in which clinical popu-
lations learn to read may provide vital information about other aspects of
their language system. Reading is dependent on, and an extension of, the
spoken language system. Therefore, investigating the way in which atypically
developing populations learn to read is likely to be informative about their
language system as a whole. Finally, studies of atypical reading development
have the potential to inform theories of reading development more generally.