The relationship between small scale spatial skills and motor ability in Williams syndrome
The aim of this study was to investigate performance on block construction tasks, both with and without a motor element, and how this relates to both fine and gross motor ability in WS and in typically developing children, aged 4-7 years. In this task, participants had to make patterns out of 3D coloured blocks. In the manual condition, participants moved the blocks themselves, and in the non-manual condition, the experimenter moved the block for them.
It was found that both the WS and TD groups performed on the manual block design task better, which went against the hypothesis that the WS group would find the non-manual task easier as the motor element of the task was removed. This could be due to participants finding the manual block design task more fun and engaging, which was certainly the case when participants were asked which task they preferred.
Correlations were found between both fine and gross motor ability and both conditions of the block design task in the typically developing groups, but only between fine motor ability and the manual block design task in the WS group. The correlation between fine motor ability and manual block design is to be expected in all groups, as the manual block design task involves the precise manipulation of small plastic blocks in order the create the patterns. The finding that the WS group did not show any other correlations between motor ability and block design, where the typically developing groups did, suggests that the WS group may be using an alternative strategy to solve the block design task.
This research also focused on mental rotation abilities in WS and two groups of typically developing children. As in the block construction task, there were two versions of the mental rotation task, one standard task, and one with an added motor element. Developmental changes were observed in both the mental rotation of tools and animals in the typically developing groups, with the 6-7 year olds performing more favourably than the 4-5 year olds, alongside the anticipated deficits in the mental rotation abilities in the WS group. There were however, no differences found between the manual and non-manual conditions in any group.
An interesting pattern of results was found for the typically developing participants, in that this group showed correlations between both fine and gross motor skills and animal mental rotation, but not tool mental rotation, which is counterintuitive as the tool task is the condition with the added motor element. In the WS group however, there is also a correlation between gross motor ability and the tool condition, in addition to the correlations between both fine and gross motor ability and the animal condition. This could suggest that the WS group are using some motor strategies to aid their poor mental rotation abilities, whereas the typically developing participants show less correlations as they do not find it necessary to use additional motor strategies to aid their performance.
- Leighanne Mayall
- Emily Farran
- Andrew Tolmie
Research groups and centres
Our research is supported by research groups and centres of excellence.