The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2021 | Improving mathematical abilities for children with Williams syndrome and Down syndrome at home: A feasibility study
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Improving mathematical abilities for children with Williams syndrome and Down syndrome at home: A feasibility study

Principal Supervisor: Dr Jo Van Herwegen (UCL Institute of Education)

Co-Supervisor: Prof Michael Thomas (Birbeck University College) and Victoria Simms (Ulster University)

Project Description

Good mathematical skills are important for everyday life and independence. Good mathematical abilities rely on good symbolic abilities, such as counting skills and recognizing digits, as well as non-symbolic abilities, including approximation and estimation abilities but symbolic and non-symbolic abilities influence one another.

Many children with Down syndrome (DS) and those with Williams syndrome (WS) are delayed in their mathematical abilities and low mathematical abilities may impact on their level of independence. Our own recent studies have shown that poor mathematical abilities in WS relate to impaired estimation and approximation abilities from infancy onwards, and these impaired estimation abilities may have knock on effects when learning symbolic number skills, despite good familiarity with numbers and counting knowledge. However, children with DS seem to have good estimation abilities but have difficulties with counting processes and conceptual understanding of counting.

The current study is the first to design and examine the impact of a co-produced parental intervention programme to aid mathematical development in children with DS and WS. This proposed feasibility study includes two phases. In the first phase, the existing PLUS and DIGIT games that have been successfully used with children with mathematical difficulties, will be redeveloped with parents of children with DS and WS to create a parent-led intervention that can be used within the home on a daily basis. The second phase of the study will examine the impact of this intervention. It is predicted that children who play these games with their parents on a regular basis will show improved symbolic and non-symbolic skills compared to a waiting control group.

Subject Areas/Keywords

Mathematical development, Intervention, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome


Key References:

Lemons, C.J., Powell, S.R., & King, S.A. (2015). Mathematics interventions for children and adolescents with Down syndrome: a research synthesis. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 59(8), 767-783.

Van Herwegen, J., Costa, H.M., Nicholson, B., & Donlan, C. (2018). Improving number abilities in low performing pre-schoolers: symbolic versus non-symbolic training programmes. Research in Developmental Disorders, 77, 1-11.

Van Herwegen, J. & Simms, V. (2020). Mathematical development in Williams syndrome: A systematic review. Research in Developmental Disabilities. Special Issue

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor:


Further information about PhDs at UCL Institute of Education is available from:

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

Candidates should apply by 10/02/2021 via Survey Monkey Apply:

  • Selected candidates will be invited for an interview at UCL Institute of Education on 25/02/2021.
  • After a successful interview, the successful candidate will be required to submit a proposal and apply to the UCL, Institute of Education doctoral school:

Closing date for applications is:  4pm 10/02/2021