Dyspraxia in Doctor Who

It’s on the tip of everyone’s tongues after this weekend, trending on twitter, the topic of conversation over our morning coffees. But this weekend’s premier of Doctor Who is breaking ground not only because of the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female doctor, but also because of the introduction of a companion character who has dyspraxia.

Specific learning disabilities like dyspraxia and dyslexia are not often represented in popular media, so the introduction of one of the Doctor’s new companions, 19 year old Ryan (Tosin Cole) is a step forward in the world of inclusivity. But what exactly is dyspraxia?

Well, dyspraxia, or developmental coordination disorder, is a condition that affects a person’s physical coordination, causing said person to struggle with day to day physical tasks that other’s find natural and simple. In children this often manifests as an inability to tie one’s shoe laces until a relatively late stage, or struggling to learn to feed and dress one’s self. In adults this can manifest as struggling to learn new skills such as driving, lack of spatial awareness and struggling to organise one’s self.

New show runner Chris Chibnall and his team have been working closely with the British Dyslexia Association (who also support dyspraxia) and the Dyspraxia Foundation to ensure an accurate portrayal of the struggles that Ryan would face due to his dyspraxia. Everyone is hoping that the introduction of Ryan will help to break down some of the misconceptions out there about dyspraxia, such as the idea that it only affects children, and that it doesn’t cause much of a problem. It is, as with all specific learning difficulties, a spectrum disorder. For some it may be hardly noticeable whereas for others it makes day to day life extremely difficult.

Chibnall has stated that “it’s important to see that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. That’s the most important thing about Doctor Who and you will see that [idea] happen a lot across this year.” Judging from the reaction to last night’s premier, viewers seem overwhelmingly positive about the portrayal. This season will raise awareness for a common but often misunderstood issue, showing that heroes are just as diverse as our society is.