How Doctor Who tackles dyspraxia in series 11

Everything you need to know about the co-ordination disorder experienced by the Doctor's new companion Ryan

Tosin Cole and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)

Dyspraxia is a fairly common condition among both children and adults, but the disorder – which effects physical co-ordination and language among other things – is relatively unknown among the wider public, especially compared to other comparable conditions like dyslexia, autism or ADHD.

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However, that might change thanks to BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who.

Series 11 introduces a new companion – Tosin Cole’s Ryan Sinclair – who has dyspraxia, a decision inspired by head writer Chris Chibnall’s own family experiences.

“I have a nephew with dyspraxia– it’s a relatively common thing among kids,” Chibnall said at a recent series 11 screening.

“So it’s important to see that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. That’s the most important thing about Doctor Who and you’re going to see that a lot this year.”

Dyspraxia, or developmental coordination disorder, is a life-long condition affecting motor coordination, organisation, perception, language and thought, and is often described as a “hidden condition” that few know much about.

Although the exact causes are unknown, dyspraxia has been theorised to be caused by a disruption in messages between the brain and the body.

In children and young people it can cause difficulty in physical activity, organisation, concentration and even socialising. The condition also effects adults, especially if management techniques aren’t used from an early age to help limit the effects.

Accordingly, in Doctor Who series 11’s opening episode, Ryan’s dyspraxia gives him problems riding a bike and climbing ladders, with the Who team working closely with charity the Dyspraxia Foundation to make sure they accurately represented the experience of those with the condition.

“We did a lot of research into that with the Dyspraxia Foundation,” Chibnall said.

“The script team have been working with those guys. It was important, because people live with these things.”

The Foundation for its part is full of praise for how Chibnall and the production team tackled the issue.

“We get loads of production showrunners contacting us, asking us to give them the main traits and characteristics of a person with dyspraxia,” Sophie Kayani, Chair of the Dyspraxia Foundation, told RadioTimes.com.

“We have a baseline definition in very general terms, and we would have given this to the production team.

“Children and adults with dyspraxia, if they haven’t had the right support early on in life, will have difficulty with their motor skills. So that’s things like being poor at dressing, unable to tie shoelaces, unable to ride a bike.

“They may even have problems being able to clean their teeth. Any of those movements that you and I could do on a daily basis without thinking about it.”

She added: “The really clever thing that you’ve told me about Ryan is that they’ve written in the anxiety that’s related to dyspraxia.

“I would say for most people with dyspraxia, one of the side effects of the condition is the anxiety. Not a lot of people are aware of that, and of course that creates difficulty in socialising, keeping friends, or sometimes judging how to behave.

“It’s a learning difficulty. It’s in the same bracket as ADHD, dyslexia, and autism. And I’d say actually we’re the poorer cousin to the others in terms of awareness. We’re about 20 years behind dyslexia.”

Still, the Foundation hopes that Doctor Who could help to change all that with the character of Ryan, who’s already creating buzz within the dyspraxia community.

“We were just so grateful to be able to have a character in such a huge show that had dyspraxia,” she said.

“The amount of awareness is absolutely huge, it’s off the scale for us. We will be forever grateful to Chris for creating Ryan.

“On our Facebook page, people are saying ‘Wow, my son or my daughter are going to be so pleased this character has dyspraxia. Someone they can look up to, someone they can identify with.’ We’ve had adults saying, ‘This would have been amazing when I was a child.’

As it turns out, Ryan’s big introduction has another strong connection to the dyspraxia community as well…

“We do have an awareness week this year, and by pure coincidence, our awareness week commences on Sunday, on the same day as Doctor Who airs!” Kayani said.

“It’s all come together really nicely.”

If you believe that you or anyone you know may have dyspraxia, you can find out more on the Dyspraxia Foundation’s website, or by calling their hotline: 01462 454986, open between 9am-1pm on Monday-Friday

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This article was originally published on 7 October 2018