Language and Emotional Knowledge: A Case Study on Ability and Disability in Williams Syndrome

Biosemiotics 2 (2):151-167 (2009)
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Williams Syndrome provides a striking test case for discourses on disability, because the characteristics associated with Williams Syndrome involve a combination of “abilities” and “disabilities”. For example, Williams Syndrome is associated with disabilities in mathematics and spatial cognition. However, Williams Syndrome individuals also tend to have a unique strength in their expressive language skills, and are socially outgoing and unselfconscious when meeting new people. Children with Williams are said to be typically unafraid of strangers and show a greater interest in contact with adults than with their peers. This apparently keen social knowledge is a counterexample to the discussion of disability among academic philosophers, especially philosophers of the early modern period. Locke infamously used the example of disability to claim that Descartes’ arguments in favor of innate ideas were incorrect. On the contrary, Williams Syndrome may stand as an example of innate social knowledge; something that could benefit current discourse in philosophy, disability theory, and medical ethics.

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Christine James
Valdosta State University


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