As actor Daniel Radcliffe reveals he has the disorder, new research shows how the condition can affect adults, says Fiona Macdonald-Smith
Not being able to tie his own shoelaces probably doesn’t bother actor Daniel Radcliffe that much.
Now worth an estimated £17 million, the Harry Potter star won’t have to worry too much about his illegible handwriting either. But when he recently admitted that he suffers from the neurological condition dyspraxia, he did a great service to the thousands of sufferers, by bringing it out into the open.
- Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe has dyspraxia
- Clumsy but clever
Once rather dismissively referred to as “clumsy child” syndrome, dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorder is an impairment of the organisation of movement that results in problems with coordination and simple tasks.
It’s often not taken seriously – a survey carried out by the Dyspraxia Foundation discovered that almost three quarters of people questioned thought behavioural and learning problems common to dyspraxia were simply an excuse for naughty or disruptive children.
Yet research out later this year will show that problems extend far beyond childhood. Dr Amanda Kirby of the Dyscovery Centre at the University of Wales, which provides research and advice to families, is about to publish a study looking at 120 adults in further and higher education who were diagnosed with dyspraxia in childhood. She found that 60-70 per cent still had problems learning skills. One man’s mother even still brushed his teeth for him.
“If you’ve ever lived with, or taught, a child with dyspraxia, you know it’s real, and that it’s there to stay,” agrees Wendy Fidler, a forensic education consultant. “I know of a girl who was very bright, but had dyspraxia. She came back from university, went out at night, and her mum reminded her to lock the door when she came in. But in the morning it was unlocked. Her mum lambasted her and she burst into tears and said she’d forgotten the order in which she did it. She’d previously learned how to [lock up] by breaking it down into practical steps, but it went out of her head when she hadn’t done it for a while.”
People with dyspraxia can be extremely intelligent, but find physical movements and activities hard to learn and difficult to maintain, so they appear awkward and clumsy. They may not automatically pick up new skills, and need more repetition to help them retain them – even such apparently simple things as catching a ball or doing up buttons.
The cause of all this is unknown, but is thought to be the failure of motor neurons – nerve cells that control muscles – to form adequate connections in the brains of those affected, so their brains take longer to process information.
It is currently estimated that one child in every classroom has dyspraxia – around two to 10 per cent of the population. The Dyspraxia Foundation is currently undertaking research to highlight levels of awareness among teaching and educational professionals, the results of which will be published during the charity’s awareness week at the end of September.
It has also published guidelines for schools suggesting that children break down tasks into manageable components, and suggesting exercises to improve motor skills. Such measures can also prevent the social isolation that many sufferers endure.
“School wasn’t a very pleasant experience,” says Clare Mason, 28, who has the condition. “I didn’t really have any friends and I was bullied. Like Daniel Radcliffe, I couldn’t even tie my own shoelaces. I’d bump into things and I was always last at sports day. But at least spending a lot of time on my own meant I threw myself into my work – I graduated in 2000 with a 2:1 from Westminster University and now I’m very happy working with children with learning difficulties.”
“Provision is hugely variable,” says Dr Kirby, who set up the Dyscovery Centre after her son was diagnosed at the age of three. “There’s greater awareness in primary schools, with good training and learning support assistants, but there’s very little support once they reach secondary age and even less when they reach adulthood.”
At 22, Dr Kirby’s son is now doing a degree in business studies and is currently travelling round Europe with fellow students. Having been “the lone clapper as he came round the corner last at sports day”, Dr Kirby is delighted to see him run three or four miles a day with the help of a personal trainer.
“It shows children can learn as long as they are taught appropriately and continue to practise what they have learned,” she says. “It’s just that those with dyspraxia need to practise more often than the rest of us just to be average.”