She's nine-years-old, loves to play in her sandbox and with her dog, a golden retriever named Dakota, and she's a 3rd grader at Seymour Intermediate School.

She's a kid who loves animals and likes to eat pancakes and macaroni and cheese, like most other kids her age. But there is a difference between Melissa Mills and other children at her school; Melissa has Angelman Syndrome (AS).

"Some of the children with AS never walk and we are very fortunate that Melissa walks," stated her mom Suzy. "The doctors told us she wouldn't walk until she was three, but by age two we had her walking."

Angelman Syndrome (AS) has confused the medical community and parents of Angelman children for hundreds of years. Initially presumed to be rare, it is now believed thousands of Angelman Syndrome cases have gone undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy, autism or other childhood disorders.

"So many children's disorders get misdiagnosed," stated Mills. "Genetic testing should be as common as shots when you have children with developmental delays. I want to get the word out. We never heard of genetic testing and Melissa was 19-months-old before she was tested. If they are tested earlier then there is early intervention." Melissa at age three had an in home schoolteacher that came to help her with speech and oral skilled. "She talks to say mamma and dadda but not much more," Mills told The Herald. "She may say 25 words in her lifetime."

Angelman Syndrome was named after Dr. Harry Angelman, an English physician, who first described three children with characteristics now known as the Angelman Syndrome (AS) in 1965. The disease is known for causing developmental delay, speech impairment, movement or balance disorder, usually ataxia of gait and/or tremulous movement of limbs, and behavioral uniqueness which can include any combination of frequent laughter/smiling; apparent happy demeanor; easily excitable personality, often with hand flapping movements; hypermotoric behavior; or short attention span. Governor Phil Bredesen issued an Angelman Syndrome Awareness Day for May 19, 2007.

The family will be attending the 2007 ASF National Walk-A-Thon in Nashville to raise money and public awareness of AS. The event will be held on May 19th and Melissa will be walking along side her mom, her brother Michael Ault, 16, who attends Seymour High School and sister Allison, 7, who attends Seymour Primary School. Husband John will accompany the family if his work schedule allows.

One of the hardest parts of a child with a disability such as this is teaching the public awareness. "If you look at Melissa she looks like a normal kid, then she may squeal out loud and flap her arms. She's a happy kid and likes to express herself. We've had to put her in a wheelchair at times just so people would know she's disabled. They just don't realize that she has a disability from sight. They don't know that she thinks less than a one-year-old."

Melissa's family is still looking for sponsors for the walk. Their goal is to reach $1000.

The Angelman Syndrome Foundation (ASF) seeks to improve the lives of individuals with Angelman Syndrome (AS), and their families. Through education, information exchange and support for research individuals, families, healthcare and education professionals benefit from a greater understanding of AS and improved therapies and treatment. The foundations ultimate goal is prevention and cure. The ASF National Walk-A-Thon brings them one step closer to realizing this dream. To sponsor Melissa and her family for the walk-a-thon you can go to her website at

The hardest part of the disorder for mom Suzy is the seizures that can accompany it. "Kids with AS can have a full life span. What scares me are the seizures, that's what can kill her," stated Mills. Reflecting on her life with Melissa Suzy stated, "It's a lot of work. It's not an average life. But just because she can't talk doesn't mean she doesn't understand. She's taught us a lot."

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