In the mid-1990s, I received my dyspraxia diagnosis. Like a lot of women my age, I have read all seven Harry Potter books and have seen every single movie adaption. Full disclosure though: I was a Harry Potter fan before I knew that J. K Rowling is transphobic, and that’s a subject for another article, at another point in time.
As a dyspraxic former Harry Potter nerd though, it’s always a small victory to see an article on Daniel Radcliffe’s dyspraxia. The more the word gets out there about dyspraxia the better because it makes my life a lot easier.
Daniel Radcliffe has always felt like a peer, so I love when he opens up about his dyspraxia. Then I read The Express‘ January 1st article and I felt like it didn’t do him and dyspraxia justice. This was a crappy setback, to say the least.
Mainstream media is often the most accessible dyspraxia resource – so this was setting a bad example for dyspraxics and the people who want to find out more.
If you’re unconvinced by the power of mainstream media, let me tell you about Ryan Sinclair. Ryan is a dyspraxic Doctor Who character. After his first appearance, Google searches for dyspraxia spiked. Ryan is proof that if people like a public figure or fictional character enough, they will happily spend time investigating any unfamiliar health conditions they may have.
Although not all references to dyspraxia have been positive. In 2008, Daniel Radcliffe’s representative expressed thankfulness for the mildness of Daniel’s condition, saying , “at worst, it presents itself in an inability to tie his shoelaces and bad handwriting.”
This statement is frequently quoted in articles about Daniel Radcliffe and dyspraxia. The Express wasn’t the first media outlet to use that and that’s part of the problem. To me, this seems like a polite way to say “he has a disability, but at least others don’t think he’s disabled!”
Due to its low awareness, dyspraxia is full of mutual misconceptions. Yet, dyspraxia is a coordination disorder. So many different aspects of everyday life need coordination for the average person to be independent enough. According to Merriam Webster, the essential components of coordination are the following:
1) The process of organising people or groups, so they work together
2) The process of causing things to go together well
3) The ability to move different parts of your body together.
Underestimating the severity of dyspraxia affects the level of available support. Some authority figures deny dyspraxics’ reasonable accommodation requests. The average dyspraxic’s symptoms can appear mild, and that’s all others are seeing and believing.
Severe symptoms are often hidden from others. Some may think of it as an act of deception but it’s actually about survival. We live in a society that’s designed with neurotypical people in mind, and some level of stigma is common.
The medical synonym for dyspraxia is developmental coordination disorder (DCD). Not long before my diagnosis, the word dyspraxia replaced clumsy child syndrome. The popularity of DCD and clumsy child syndrome has had mixed results.
Dyspraxics are often considered not disabled enough for support. When you can’t get support, we’re deemed too disabled for education or work. Journalists talk about Daniel’s dyspraxia not holding him back from success without acknowledging his privilege.
When he was 11 years old, Daniel made 11 million dollars on the first Harry Potter Movie. He is also the son of both a literary agent and a casting director. This made the challenging barriers to entry for his industry less of an issue for him.
Far too often, journalists write articles about Radcliffe’s dyspraxia that assume that everyone can choose any creative pursuit, and magically their disability will get a lot more manageable.
Everyone’s dyspraxia is different, and the writer of The Express article is openly acknowledging that, but that still is the narrative I have seen far too often.
As the daughter of someone who works in the film industry, I know that it’s not as simple as becoming an actor, and achieving fame because I have met a lot of actors Radcliffe’s age. Many of the actors I have met have a minimum wage or teaching job as well. Passion for their craft motivates them to keep going.
Recommended support for dyspraxics need the following things that not everyone is lucky enough to have:
- Access to subsidized care
- Or some combination of all the above.
We also need to talk about the “dyspraxia is more common in boys than girls” myth. The real problem is the underdiagnosis of women and girls. The average age of diagnosis for men is 17, and the average age of diagnosis for women is 22. There isn’t a straightforward answer for why this is the case due to insufficient research on this subject.
Societal assumptions about heteronormative behaviour for women vs men make it a lot more difficult to spot potential signs of dyspraxia in women. If a guy finds physical activity difficult, someone will want to know why. If a woman is clumsy, others will assume it’s a personality quirk. Since I’m a cis-gendered, straight woman in my thirties, others assume that I’ll spend a lot of time on my hair, makeup, and outfit. Often this assumption helps me appear neurotypical. Even when I’m finding self-care and personal grooming difficult, I can ask for help and pretend that I’m not. When I was a teenager, I learned that rushing self-care and personal grooming never ends well. When I rush self-grooming or attempt to do other things at the same time, my buttons, zippers, and hairdo are wonky, and my jewellery and makeup break or end up on the floor.
When I first read the Daniel Radcliffe representative’s statement I had an important question – What would have happened if his dyspraxia didn’t appear mild. Would he still have access to the same opportunities?
Recent examples of neurodivergence in the entertainment industry suggest that the answer may, in fact, be no. #ActuallyAutistic activists reading this article may recognise the mild vs low functioning labels. Sia’s directorial debut, Music, gave this issue a lot of publicity.
So what does this have to do with Daniel Radcliffe? The truth is, his career wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Maggie Smith, and the first director he ever worked with seeing a lot of talent and potential in him.
Maggie Smith recommended Daniel for the role of Harry Potter after working together on another movie. This was a key moment that launched Daniel’s career and made him the successful and well-known actor he is today. At Daniel’s audition, director Christopher Columbus found the vulnerability in Daniel Radcliffe’s performance compelling.
Neither Maggie Smith nor Christopher Columbus forced Radcliffe to change his approach. Instead, they celebrated, worked around, and embraced all aspects of his work. Maggie Smith and Christopher Columbus’ approaches to working with Daniel Radcliffe are valuable lessons that can help us all create an environment where dyspraxics can thrive in all aspects of our life.
It’s time to move beyond the outdated and ableist reporting of conditions like dyspraxia in mainstream media, so we can appreciate neurodivergent people for who they really are.
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