The Greatest Spell Harry Potter Cast Was Making Dyspraxia Cool

Do you ever see the word "representation" and feel your eyes glazing over, even if you genuinely think representation is important? Honestly, same. "Representation" is a useful umbrella word for conveying a very complex concept, but it doesn't get to the heart of what representation really means. Like, "raising awareness," it massively understates how it feels to, for the very first time, discover a celebrity or a character who has something in common with you. "Representation" falls short of expressing the euphoria of discovering that something you felt bad about is actually something you can brag about, because there is an Unquestionably Cool Person who has that thing in common with you, and talks openly and proudly about it.

In 1997, at the age of eight, I was diagnosed with mild dyspraxia. I was fortunate enough to get support for it at school, including extra time in exams. But I mostly kept it a secret from the other students in my class, especially throughout the awkward teenage years of secondary school. Even with all the support I had from my teachers and parents, I still understood it to mean "there's something wrong with my brain," and telling a bunch of 13-year-old kids who already don't like you that there's something wrong with your brain ... well, I felt it was better to keep it to myself.

Then, just before I started my second year at university, something happened. "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe revealed that he has mild dyspraxia as well. And that changed everything.

It's dys-praxia, not dyspraxi-ah

Unlike dyslexia, which can be fairly easily summarized as difficulty with reading and writing, dyspraxia is a little harder to explain. It's also known as developmental co-ordination disorder — a phrase that, like "representation," is accurate but not very illuminating. Fundamentally, having mild dyspraxia is like having a body that's just a little bit drunk all the time. Even though your brain is sober, your body is like a friend who's had a few too many beers, and so you have to pay careful attention to make sure that they don't wander into traffic or trip over their own feet.

If you're curious about what a permanently tipsy eight-year-old looks like, you can check out some of the symptoms described in my own assessment above. A particularly memorable dyspraxic whoopsy-daisy occurred during a game of rounders at school. I'd been spending most of my turns as a batter contentedly missing the ball (poor hand-eye coordination is a major feature of dyspraxia) when suddenly, miraculously, I actually hit a ball. 

Logically, my brain knew that the next step was to drop the bat and run to the first base, but somewhere between my brain and my body, some wires got crossed. Instead of dropping the bat, I swung it again, and let go at the end of the swing, so that the bat went whizzing halfway across the field. (No schoolchildren were hurt in the making of this anecdote, though there were certainly a few kids that my 10-year-old self would have loved to see get hit in the face with a flying bat.)

That tendency towards clumsiness, poor coordination, and embarrassing pratfalls (at this point my body is a living record of all my falls and collisions, recorded in old scars, broken teeth that had to be repaired, the knee injury that never quite healed etc.) is a real target on your back when you're at school, surrounded by mini sociopaths with rage issues and no social filters. There was an unspoken rule that if there was something different about you, and it wasn't an overtly good difference, you'd better keep it to yourself or risk it being turned into a weapon against you. And that was how I treated my dyspraxia ... until one day, it underwent a transfiguration.

Defense Against the Dark Arts

Until Daniel Radcliffe revealed his own difficulties with dyspraxia, I'd always considered it something that should be kept hidden. British schoolchildren have lots of words for kids with learning difficulties, none of them particularly nice, and getting extra help in class and in exams was drawing too much attention already.

But once Harry Potter himself said he had dyspraxia, it was the complete reverse. Suddenly the relative rarity of the disorder made it special — something that I shared with a celebrity, and which no one else (at least, not that I knew) did. I could tell people I had dyspraxia, explain what it was, and then swoop in smugly with the clincher: "You know Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter? He has it as well."

Before he became one of the most famous children in the world, Radcliffe himself was no stranger to low self-esteem. "I was having a hard time at school, in terms of being crap at everything, with no discernible talent," the actor told ATLAS Surrey. His mother enrolled him in acting classes to help boost his confidence. And, as an indirect result of feeling like he was "crap at everything," he ended up finding something he was good at.

Finding your Hogwarts house

There's an obvious thematic resonance here with "Harry Potter" itself, a series about a boy who is bullied for all of the things that are different about him, and who one day discovers that all of those things are actually what make him special. The "Harry Potter" books and movies were wish fulfillment for every kid who was lonely, or pushed around, or felt that there was something wrong with them: a promise that one day the bullying and the ostracism would end, and they'd be surrounded by people who were just like them, and "weird" would become "special."

Unlike having magic powers, having a body that acts like a drunk friend who keeps falling over is never really going to be an advantage in life, objectively speaking. But, as Radcliffe has pointed out, having something that's objectively a disadvantage comes with benefits that you wouldn't have had if you'd started out with nothing but a big bouquet of advantages:

"Do not let it stop you. It has never held me back and some of the smartest people I know are people who have learning disabilities. The fact that some things are more of a struggle will only make you more determined, harder working, and more imaginative in the solutions you find to problems."

I also found it was advantageous in other ways. Once I started openly talking about having dyspraxia, I found that other people would pipe up with, "Oh my god, I have that too!" And they'd be excited to have found someone else who lived in the same world as them. We could swap stories about our most hilarious accidents (another upside to dyspraxia is that your life is basically a "Mr. Bean" sketch; just one comedic mishap after another) and bond over having found a kindred spirit. Like discovering fellow "Star Wars" nerds, or a LARPing group, or a chess club, something that was a disadvantage when it came to making friends in the shark tank of school becomes a valuable inroad into making friends.

So if ever find yourself getting reflexively annoyed at "forced representation" in a movie or a TV show you're watching, you don't need to suppress the annoyance ... but maybe just let yourself feel it, and then let it go. Because somewhere out there, a lonely, awkward kid just got their bragging rights.