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What is Angelman Syndrome?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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Angelman Syndrome (AS) is a genetic disorder which affects the nervous system. Patients can manifest a variety of symptoms, ranging from seizures to profound developmental delays. Because Angelman Syndrome is genetic in nature, there is no cure, with treatment focused on supportive therapies which help the patient to live a healthy and happy life. Typically, people with Angelman Syndrome require care throughout their lives, although they may gain some measure of independence with supportive help.

This condition is caused by a deletion of genetic material on chromosome 15. As a general rule, Angelman Syndrome is not inherited; the deletion is caused by random chromosomal abnormalities. While it is potentially possible for the chromosome deletion to be passed between generations, this is fairly rare. Unless parents specifically test for that deletion when they request prenatal testing, they may be unaware that the child has Angelman Syndrome until developmental delays begin to be observed.

Several characteristics are universal to all AS patients. They experience profound developmental delays, along with movement disorders which make it difficult to walk and perform fine motor tasks. Angelman Syndrome also causes people to have very short attention spans, and personalities which seem unusually happy. The frequent laughter and smiles in people with Angelman Syndrome are believed to be the result of excessive motor responses.

Some patients also experience seizures, sleep disorders, difficulty sleeping, and microcephaly, a condition which causes the head to be unusually small. Many also have hypopigmentation, which causes them to be very pale, with light hair and eyes. The combined symptoms associated with Angelman Syndrome can make it very difficult for patients to navigate the outside world, as they struggle to communicate and understand the events around them.

Angelman Syndrome is named for Dr. Harry Angelman, an English physician who first described the condition in 1965. It is also known as Happy Puppet Syndrome. However, this term for the condition is generally deemed offensive, though it may be an accurate description of what an Angelman patient looks like, at first glance. With focused support from therapists, medical professionals, parents, and assistants, someone with Angelman Syndrome can learn the rudiments of communication, and he or she may be able to live a full, rich, happy life surrounded by caring family members and friends.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Aug 16, 2014

What is the lifespan for a person with Angelman Syndrome? I can't imagine it would be a normal one. That might not be a bad thing, if the parents can reasonably expect to outlive their child. It would certainly ensure the child received good care for his or her whole life.

I also wonder if there are any support groups available for these parents. Maybe they would attend something for parents who have children who are mentally disabled, for any reason. I'd think I would want something like that available if I had a special needs child.

By Grivusangel — On Aug 15, 2014

Probably one of the blessings of this syndrome is that the person who has it will never realize how limited they are. Some mentally retarded people understand that others will achieve goals they can never attain, but those with Angelman Syndrome will never know the difference. They will never feel dissatisfied with themselves or with their lives. They will never feel limited. There's something to be said for living a life in that way.

I wonder if they are able to be taught basic self-care, like toileting themselves and feeding themselves. That would certainly make their caregivers' lives easier.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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