It’s true that children are less likely to judge someone at face-value. They might be more likely to strike up conversations with strangers, not realizing that strangers can be dangerous and untrustworthy—which is why, as parents, we teach our children to be wary of certain people. However, for little 9-year-old Isabelle, it won’t make a difference how hard her mother tries to teach her not to talk to strangers.
Isabelle has a rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome, which literally means that she can’t distrust anyone—quite literally, they are pathologically trusting. The syndrome is characterized by other symptoms, such as developmental delays and small physical stature, but the most curious symptom is that they have no social fear. Researchers theorize that this is probably because of a problem in their Limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates emotion. Specifically, people with Williams Syndrome have an abnormal regulation of the chemical oxytocin, which signals when to trust or when to distrust.
For Isabelle’s mom, Jessica, Williams Syndrome makes it both difficult and easier to raise her daughter. For instance, Isabelle is chronically happy, hardly a characteristic that most people would consider to be a negative personality trait. However, as Isabelle has gotten older the negative side of her trusting nature began to play a larger role. For example, one day at the beach Isabelle met some new friends. She overheard the children’s mother tell them that they were going to go to Dairy Queen to have ice cream after leaving the beach. Not realizing that she wasn’t invited and that the children’s mother was essentially a stranger, Isabelle climbed into the backseat of the family’s van, ready to go to Dairy Queen. The woman was irate and informed Jessica that she had almost driven away with Isabelle in the van but had luckily seen her face in the rearview mirror as she was backing the car out of the parking lot. Jessica was at a loss for words—how could she explain her daughter’s rare condition? In fact, basic elements of Jessica’s life have changed so she can protect her daughter—she can’t take Isabelle to the dog park, to the store, or even let her answer the doorbell for fear that Isabelle will disappear with a dangerous stranger. Isabelle isn’t even allowed to use the bathroom at her elementary school by herself since other children with Williams Syndrome have been molested by strangers. Luckily, Jessica and her husband are working with Isabelle to teach her how to behave around strangers with books, movies, and educational toys. While they may never teach her to distrust strangers, researchers promise that Williams Syndrome gets better with time as long as Jessica and her husband continue to teach Jessica as best as they can.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.