Parents say their six-year-old daughter will 'never fall in love' due to this rare genetic disorder
For most of us, our health is something we take for granted. We wake up every day, not realising how lucky we are to be able to hold down a job, or form meaningful relationships, or even take care of ourselves. Because, for some people, those things will never be a possibility.
Martha Taggart, a six-year-old girl from Kent, England, probably won't ever get to enjoy any of those things. That's because she has a rare condition known as "happy puppet syndrome", a neuro-genetic disorder that renders her unable to speak, keeps her from developing past the mental age of a toddler, and causes her to walk with slightly jerky movements - hence the "puppet" part of the name.
"I have come to terms with the condition and how it affects Martha," said Lee Taggart, the little girl's father. "But, sometimes, I will have a little moment to myself when I think about what it will mean for her future."
Lee is very conscious of all the things that his daughter won't ever get to experience.
"All the things that you take for granted in a person’s life – like passing a driving test, going to university and falling in love – she will never get to do. And, speaking selfishly, what makes me really upset is the idea that I will never get to walk her up the aisle."
"Happy puppet syndrome" was officially renamed "Angelman syndrome" in 1965, but the original name was given in order to describe some common attributes of people with the condition: they're often smiley, can be restless and excitable, and have a short attention span.
In Martha's case, the tell-tale jerky movements are not pronounced, but the six-year-old does express herself through emphatic gestures and noises.
Martha's mother, Charmaine, explained that her daughter communicates mainly through physical expression.
"If she wants something she will take your hand and lead you there – take you to the fridge if she’s hungry, or to the toilet if she needs the loo.
"Sometimes, though, she needs words and can’t explain herself and I know that makes her very frustrated.
"But for the most part, she’s a very joyful little girl. The name ‘happy puppet’ is outdated but really does ring true because she is always laughing and smiling – just not speaking."
Charmaine and Lee have two other children, three-year-old Solomon and two-year-old Nora, who do not have Angelman syndrome.
"All our children play very nicely together and get on very well," Charmaine said. "But the younger two are now beginning to talk and I think they are quite confused about why their older sister can’t talk back to them."
What's more, Martha's inability to speak sometimes causes her to become frustrated, and that makes it difficult for her to get along with others.
"You can see that it gets Martha worked up, and it’s moments like that, when she can’t speak to her siblings, that I feel most sorry for her. It’s like she’s trapped inside this condition."
But Martha's family doesn't want people to think that she doesn't have a good quality of life.
"She is very happy amongst nature and likes to pootle about in the countryside," said Charmaine. "Saying that, though, she isn’t overly keen on animals.
"She’s also a great dancer and all you have to do is put on some music and she begins to wiggle about!"
While Martha may only be six years old, her parents are already planning for her future.
"Although she can’t speak she certainly understands a lot more than we maybe realise," Charmaine said. "It could be wishful thinking, but I don’t see why Martha couldn’t lead a relatively normal and independent life of her own one day."
So, while she might not be able to fall in love or do a multitude of things that are considered the norm for most people, it's important to remember that Martha is happy - and that's what matters most.