What is dyspraxia? Doctor Who companion Ryan's condition explained

The new series of Doctor Who isn’t just breaking new ground with the show’s first female Doctor – it’s also embracing inclusivity in another way, introducing a companion character with dyspraxia.

19-year-old Ryan (Tosin Cole) is revealed to have the condition – also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder or DCD – in ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ and is seen struggling with his co-ordination.

But what exactly is dyspraxia? Digital Spy spoke to two experts – from the British Dyslexia Association, which also provides support for those with dyspraxia, and the Dyspraxia Foundation, which advised on this series of Doctor Who.

“It’s important for people with dyspraxia, especially young people, to have positive role models that show dyspraxia need not hold you back,” said Amanda Kirby, an advisor on dyspraxia to the British Dyslexia Association and Professor of Developmental Disorders at the University of South Wales.

“We hope [the introduction of Ryan] will also break down some of the misconceptions out there about dyspraxia, as these can have a negative impact on people’s experience of dyspraxia and make it harder for them to feel confident and achieve everything they can.”

So what are those misconceptions? “Often people think it just affects children and they will grow out of it eventually,” says Kirby, who is also a parent to an adult with the condition. “Dyspraxia is a life-long disorder and affects children and adults equally.

“Many consider that it doesn’t affect people that much. It is a spectrum so for some people the symptoms can be fairly minor but it can go through to having an impact on all aspects of life.

“Some people can dismiss dyspraxia as not being that much of a problem and not realising for some people how it can impact on their lives. Life is often much more tiring for someone who has dyspraxia than others as everything takes much more effort.

“It is [also] crucial for people to understand that dyspraxia doesn’t affect intelligence in any way at all. Sometimes, people see the symptoms of dyspraxia and associate clumsy with ‘stupid’ and make unfounded leaps about people and their abilities. Dyspraxia has nothing to do with someone’s intellectual ability.”

Here are the facts: Dyspraxia/DCD is a lifelong condition affecting gross and fine motor coordination in adults and children,” explains Gill Dixon, ambassador for the Dyspraxia Foundation and also mother to two (adult) sons with the condition.

“In addition, many may experience difficulties with organisational skills, memory, processing speed, perception and, in some cases speech.”

Dyspraxia is also more commonplace than you might expect – famous figures with the disorder include Daniel Radcliffe, Florence Welch and Cara Delevingne.

“Statistics vary but it is safe to say 6% are effected in a way that affects their living and learning,” says Dixon. “Certainly one child in every classroom. One adult in every medium sized office/work place.”

In children, the disorder may present as difficulties with self-care, writing and typing as well as other educational and recreational activities – such as riding a bike, a task Ryan is seen to struggle with in Doctor Who. In adulthood, many of these difficulties can continue, as well as learning new skills at home, in education and work, such as driving a car and DIY.

But getting a formal diagnosis is, Dixon insists, “the biggest hurdle” to overcome in terms of learning to live with dyspraxia. “Families can and do really battle to get a diagnosis and support,” she says.

“To get a formal diagnosis, you need a specially-trained professional such as an occupational therapist or physiotherapist, who will do a series of rigorous tests to determine if a person specifically has Developmental Co-ordination Disorder,” Kirby suggests.

“Children and adults also need to have ruled out other causes of motor difficulties as well. If you are concerned, speak to your GP for further referral.”

When you are diagnosed with dyspraxia you will be entitled to support. If you are at school, the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) will be responsible for getting you support under the school’s SEN policy.

If you are an adult, your workplace is required by law to make “reasonable adjustments” for you, and provide support for disabled employees. (Dyspraxia is legally classified as a disability in the UK.)

Treatment varies depending on individual need, from simple lifestyle tweaks to occupational therapy, speech and language intervention and physiotherapy. But with effective care in place, dyspraxia “doesn’t stop people leading an active life.”

“Keeping physically active is perfectly possible and important to managing the symptoms of dyspraxia, and dyspraxia doesn’t affect someone’s intellect, so people with dyspraxia can go onto to do amazing jobs,” says Kirby.

“Even in the sporting arena, Steve Ficca, a world renowned martial artist and Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, for example, has dyspraxia,” echoes Dixon.

“However, much of this success is determined by acknowledgement and support and by the dogged tenacity of those with dyspraxia. I know many individuals with the condition and they are exceptional people with a huge number of strengths and positive qualities to offer.”

For more information of dyspraxia / DCD, visit dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk and movementmattersuk.org. To find out more about the British Dyslexia Foundation, go to bdadyslexia.org.uk.

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