The giggles, bright eyes and infectious smile let you know 5-year-old Aiden Strickland is a happy child, even though he is quickly losing the use of his muscles.
"He was about 4 when we noticed it," said his father Tim. "I noticed it. We were playing ball and I noticed the way he was trying to grab the ball. He would take one hand and scoop and ... the other he wouldn't open."
Aiden was adopted by Tim and Loretta Strickland of Owens Crossroads when he was about 3 years old. But there were no signs of any problems.
"Actually he progressed faster than normal," Strickland said. "He was an incredible little athlete."
The Stricklands learned that Aiden's illness – called Ubiquitin Disorder - was possibly genetic. Through his biological family's medical history, it was learned that two of Aiden's sisters were also afflicted. The symptoms were similar to ALS but the boys were different than the girls.
"They (the girls) lived longer – one of them eight years, one of them 10 years," Strickland said. "But the progression is not the same with any of them. They lived longer, one of them eight years and one of them 10 years. But the progression is not the same with any of them.
"It started a lot younger with him. It's been a lot more aggressive. What's happening now with the neck is something that should not normally happen until the later stages."
"So what's taking some people six years is taking him four months."
Strickland said Aiden was one of the first in the world to be diagnosed with Ubiquitin, which is terminal. With the disorder, certain proteins are not flushed away and become a tangled mess, disrupting signals from the brain to the muscles.
Strickland said research is underway and medication is on the horizon.
"We talked to one company and they said it would be 2015 before it would be available to the public and Aiden doesn't have that kind of time," he said. Stem cell research is going on in Mexico, Canada and Israel.
In the meantime, Loretta said Aiden has not asked about what's happening to him or why.
She said their goal is to make him happy – with the giggles, bright eyes and infectious smile.