School Years

(by Linda Thornton)

Children with PWS are very receptive to learning, they generally have good reading skills, but poor numerical skills and their handwriting is slow to develop.

They show good ability to learn computer skills and often have good fine motor skills (jigsaw puzzles, threading beads etc). Their IQ level generally falls in the just-below-normal level, but often shows "islands of competence".

Maths instruction needs to be conceptual and practical and often repeated many times before there is understanding. Once understanding has occurred however, the concepts generally remain. Like all children they thrive on praise. Teaching the skills of using a calculator, for instance, is often more useful than trying to teach the times-tables.

Primary Schooling

On the whole, children with PWS can manage primary school years well. With the help of a teacher aide they will cope within the structure of the classroom.

Secondary School Options

  • Mainstreaming with a teacher aide - some children with PWS manage this sytem quite well. It is advisable to check the system used at your local high school to see whether this will suit your son/daughter.
  • Attending a school with a Special Unit attached - again, check out your local college to see whether this option suits your son/daughter.
  • Special Residential Schools: There are two special residential schools in New Zealand, Halswell Residential (for boys) in Christchurch and Salisbury School (for girls) in Richmond, Nelson. These two schools have a very good reputation for working with special needs and have had many students with PWS through their doors with great success! However, the Ministry of Education policy for these special schools dictates a two-year turnaround and this could affect your decision-making. Both schools are very approachable.

Positive Instructions

Children with PWS tend to have a rigid way of thinking and tend to work best to a set routine and positive timetable. They can accept change if prepared for it beforehand, but a sudden unexpected change may result in non-cooperation - generally more so with an older child. It is sensible preparation to warn beforehand if something is to be postponed or cancelled.


Generally speaking, children with PWS are sociable and interactive with other children, but tend to mix with younger children rather than their peers whose natural physical ability will often leave the child with PWS behind. Some children prefer their own company or adult company and will seek frequently seek out a teacher's company.

With an ordinary classroom setting, children with PWS may have difficulty in settling and can become easily distracted. It is not "naughty" behaviour but part of the syndrome. They may work better with their 'own' desk and chair rather than continually moved around.

Simple behaviour modification techniques

such as "ignore-redirect-praise" work well. Removal from a situation which appears to be heating up and redirection to another task until the person has calmed down, is another workable method. But, basically with the younger person, the behaviours tend to be comparable with any child of his/her age.

It is a good idea to tell classmates (when the child is not in the class) a little about PWS and how they could cope with any problems.

Eating behaviours at school

Because of the deletion in chromosome 15 (which governs normal ability to feel full), children with PWS are constantly on the lookout for food.

Practical intervention from teaching staff will mean that:

  • lunchtime and playtime are supervised so that the child eats only what is prepared for these times (otherwise everything is likely to be eaten at once);
  • care must be taken to see that other children are not passing on unwanted food and that the youngester him/herself is not suggesting they might finish others' lunches for them.
  • Food discarded in rubbish-bins in the classroom will need to be removed so that it does not provide temptation.
  • Lunchboxes need to be placed in view of the teacher so that they also do not provide temptation. They may need to be handed out at each break.
  • Manual Training which includes cooking, will need to be supervised.
  • It is a good idea to have a notebook which goes home with the child, noting any change in dietary intake during the day. Accidents do happen!

Generally speaking...

  • It doesn't pay to argue. Make the statement, allow the person one more comment, warn that the discussion is over - and stick to it! You will never win an argument.
  • It doesn't pay to be sarcastic, or even use subtle humour. People with PWS do not respond well to such tactics.
  • Don't ignore bad behaviour - try interventions to prevent it.
  • Don't use food as a reward or punishment. This can cause escalating behaviours.
  • Don't promise anything you cannot or will not do. They will not accept any reason for change.
  • Arguing often provokes further escalation in behaviours. Their concrete thinking doesn't lend itself to reasoning.
  • Showing a child what you expect of him/her gets better results than verbally explaining.
  • Keep your sense of humour!
  • Ask for help - the PWS Association has other resources available and runs workshops specifically for teachers with students who have PWS. For information on Education workshops please contact: