Durham University study urges more understanding needed for 'stranger danger' Williams Syndrome

The Northern Echo: Bev Smith pictured with her son Dylan McKimm Bev Smith pictured with her son Dylan McKimm

A GENETIC disorder which makes sufferers outgoing and over friendly towards strangers should be better understood in an attempt to improve their safety.

Researchers from Durham University are calling for increased awareness and improved education for teachers, health professionals and children afflicted by the disorder over the risks which could be posed by strangers.

Both children and adults with Williams Syndrome can suffer physical health issues, such as heart problems, as well as mild to moderate learning difficulties and high anxiety.

They are often good talkers but may not understand everything and are very outgoing and friendly towards other people, increasing the risks to them from strangers.

The syndrome is a rare neuro-developmental genetic disorder affecting about 3,500 people in the UK.

Dylan Mckimm, 13, who lives in Spennymoor, County Durham, with mother Bev Smith, 38, and stepfather Brian Smith, 41, displays the typical outgoing personality of someone with Williams Syndrome.

"He’s always been overfriendly growing up and whenever he sees someone walk past our house he runs to the front door and shouts hello to them," said Mrs Smith.

“He’ll even shout hello to people he doesn’t know. He loves the attention, but when people don’t respond, which sometimes they don’t, he can get very upset.

“The more awareness there is of the disorder and things like the increased sociability that comes with it, the better.

The Durham University study showed short films about raising awareness of stranger danger to 16 young people with Williams Syndrome, aged eight to 17 years and then asked questions.

They found 73 per cent of the answers given by the youngsters did not show appropriate knowledge of interactions with unfamiliar adults. This compares to an average 40 per cent of the responses given by younger normally developing children.

The research, funded by the British Academy, is published in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research.

Lead author Dr Debbie Riby said adults with Williams Syndrome are just as vulnerable as children to the risks posed by strangers.

“The aim of our research would be to ultimately develop a social skills training programme, looking at social interactions and possibly delivered by teachers, to raise awareness of social communication issues in people with Williams Syndrome."

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