Williams syndrome is caused by a genetic abnormality, specifically a deletion of about 27 genes from the long arm of one of the two chromosome 7s. On the surface, William’s syndrome may seem the exact opposite of ASD (at least HFA), as people with William’s Syndrome are hypersocial but tend to have poor cognitive skills.
In reality, children with William’s syndrome often find it almost as hard as children with ASD to find friends due to them being different and they often face the same problems with bullying as well.
Common comorbidities and symptoms:
- Special interests (often music in William’s Syndrome)
- Social anxiety and phobias
- Fear of loud noises (highly sensitive, sensory processing problems)
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Picky eating
- Developmental delays
- Problems with motor skills
It’s unlikely that all these problems are caused by the deletion of the 27 genes in question. It’s also unlikely that hypersociality is caused by deleterious mutations. It’s more likely that children with ASD and William’s syndrome share more common genes. How can this conundrum be resolved? I have hypothesised that people who are affected by ASD have ancient hunter minds (as opposed to the majority of people who have farmer-herder minds) as well as partially different bodies.
Children with Williams Syndrome have a similar genetic programme to hunters, but instead of being hyper-systemizers they are hyper-empathizers. The difference reflects two different evolutionary roles: provisioning vs caregiving.
The similarities would be explained by the fact that hunter-gatherers have different adaptations than farmer-herders: being highly egalitarian, less status-conscious, less in-group social, highly sensitive to the environment and less adapted to digesting farmer-herder foods, i.e. casein and gluten.
Hypersociality isn’t that rare in people with ASD either, especially in girls with ASD. Girls with ASD are often not diagnosed exactly because they are highly social and want to be friends with everybody. However, they often fail in making friendships too. Scientists found that people with Williams syndrome have a lot more oxytocin than everybody else and that it fluctuates wildly in the brain. Autistic people, on the other hand, have reduced oxytocin levels.
One problem with hypersociality is that it is hard to live in a world where other people aren’t the same. There is a high risk of abuse (in fact, something that commonly happens to people with ASD too). It shouldn’t therefore come as a surprise that hypersociality makes way to social anxiety instead and in the worst case to avoidant personality disorder.
Geneticists have found that there is high genetic overlap between the different forms of neurodiversity (e.g. ASD and ADHD) and different mental disorders (e.g. bipolar). One reason is that there is assortative mating for these conditions. If my hypothesis is correct, people with Williams Syndrome should be genetically closer to other neurodiverse people and feel attracted to them as well rather than to farmer-herder types.
For more on the view of neurodiverse people as hunter-gatherer types check out my book
Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on July 2, 2021.