Medical Minute 5-26: Williams Syndrome: Drumming with Seth

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

Seth Link's been banging that drum kit since he was toddler. Like many with Williams syndrome, he uses music for expression.

"You have all this energy and all this stuff and you want to be able to experience it, you know, and to share it with other people," said Seth.

A missing piece on the 7th chromosome can lead to learning disabilities and heart trouble. Another trait: extreme friendliness and empathy, to the point of being less able to detect risky situations or ill intentions in others. Seth needed heart surgery at just 10 months old. And while extremely sociable, Seth suffers from high anxiety.

But music soothes his soul.

"If he starts getting anxious we can ask him to think about his favorite song or go play some beats and get him immersed in that and it does seem to help him control his anxiety," said Becky Link.

"It's kind of a lesson in contradictions. How can people who have significant developmental disabilities also have pronounced and marked interest in music and musical talent?" stated Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., Director at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.

The answer could lead to new treatments for all people with anxiety. Research Seth is proud to be a part of.

And since Williams is genetic - research may pinpoint genes that trigger mental development and even personality issues.

"Being yourself is sometimes the most important thing that a person can do."

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Williams syndrome is a genetic condition that can affect anyone—1 in 10,000 people worldwide have the condition, as do about 20,000-30,000 people in the United States. It is caused by the deletion of several genes on the seventh chromosome, including the gene for elastin, which can cause distinct facial features in people with Williams syndrome. The deletion occurs at the time of conception, and is spontaneous— it is not normally an inherited condition, though someone who has Williams syndrome has a 50% chance of passing it down to his or her child. Williams syndrome is diagnosed through a blood test that detects the deletion of elastin on chromosome seven. Williams syndrome can lead to medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, learning disabilities, and developmental delays. However, it can also result in an increased affinity for music and a very friendly and open personality.

• Distinct facial characteristics: a small, upturned nose, a long space between the nose and upper lip, small chins, wide mouths, and puffiness around the eyes.
• Delays in childhood development: Children with William syndrome learn to speak and walk later than other children their own age.
• Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
• Distinct intellectual strengths and weaknesses: while fine motor skills and spatial awareness suffer, people with Williams syndrome are often great communicators, with excellent long-term memories, speech skills and social skills.
• Medical complications such as narrowed blood vessels and elevated levels of calcium in the blood.
• Infants with Williams syndrome may be colicky and have feeding problems; they also may grow at a slower rate than other babies their age.


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