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Angelman Syndrome

What is It?

Angelman Syndrome (AS) is not common, as it only occurs in 1 out of every 15,000 live births. A neuro-genetic disorder, it is characterized by severe intellectual and developmental disabilities, sleep disturbance, seizures, jerky movements (especially hand-flapping), but also frequent laughter or smiling, and a usually happy demeanor. First identified in 1965 it is named for a British doctor, Harry Angelman. Children with AS are often identified as having a wide mouth with a protruding tongue; all are found with developmental delays, balance disorders, and speech impairments with either minimal or no communication.

A diagnosis typically comes between the ages of two and five years of age. (HAS; 2009). This disability overlaps with classic autism and is associated with severe cognitive, speech, and motor impairments (Summers, 2011). More than 80% of children with AS have seizures and 20-80% have abnormal sleep patterns, increased sensitivity to heat, and an increased chance of obesity. Like autism, AS has social and behavioral implications as well. Some implications of the syndrome include: decreased eye contact, limited social overtures, or enjoyment in social interactions, and few socially directed vocalizations.

Learning Support

Typical placement seems to be in severe classrooms; however, the individual student’s needs are to be addressed at IEP meetings. Once those needs have been identified, learning activities can be personalized with media the child favors such as water, plastics, and objects that help stimulate the senses of a child and enable him to focus on lessons. Other effective strategies include:

  • Teaching students sign language to help with communication. This gives the child a way to express feelings and preferences.
  • Advances in technology have also helped with communication deficiencies. These include alphabet touch pads, and a range of tablets, including the iPad. There are now iPad applications that allow the student to type a sentence and have it read aloud, as well as pick from a wide range of words and pictures to help them express themselves.

Technology can be costly but is increasingly available even in general education classrooms. These small measures can make the difference between a child locked in seclusion and a child who is able to express emotions, love, joy, pain, and need.

The Angelman Syndrome Foundation website offers a list of common accommodations parents and the school can consider. It includes some research-based techniques that assist students as they progress into secondary school education to help them both academically and socially.

References and Websites

United Kingdom


United States

Summers, J., & Impey, J. (2011). Assessing Joint Attention Responding and Initiation in Children with Angelman Syndrome. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 24(5), 450-458.