Dyspraxia Explains Harry Potter's Klutziness

Dyspraxia makes it hard for Potter's Daniel Radcliffe to write, tie shoes.


Aug. 19, 2008 — -- For "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe, it's the simple things that give him the most trouble.

Radcliffe, 19, doesn't take issue with memorizing the scripts for the five "Harry Potter" movies he has headlined, or even the lines for his Broadway debut coming up this fall. But, asking him to tie his shoelaces is a different story.

In a recent interview with the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, Radcliffe admitted publicly for the first time to suffering from dyspraxia, a neurological disorder commonly associated with klutziness.

Radcliffe said the motor skill disorder sometimes gets so bad that he has trouble completing simple tasks, such as tying his shoes or writing a thank you note.

"I was having a hard time at school, in terms of being crap at everything, with no discernible talent," Radcliffe told the paper.

Poking fun at his own disability, Radcliffe went on to lament that Velcro sneakers never excelled in the world of fashion.

"Why, oh why, has Velcro not taken off?" Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe was unavailable for an interview with ABCNews.com, but his publicist, Vanessa Davies, said that the actor's dyspraxia is "very mild."

"It's a mild condition that affects his ability to tie his shoe laces and affects his handwriting," Davies said, adding that while he is capable of tying his laces, he "often fails" to do so.

Dr. Mark Hallett, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes in Bethesda, Md., said the cause of dyspraxia is still unknown.

"Dyspraxia is a form of clumsiness, which is seen largely in children and is not explained by more elementary problems," said Hallett.

"Those who have dyspraxia may have trouble with simple things, such as shoe laces, jumping rope or throwing a ball."

Twenty-seven-year-old Warren Fried of Chicago told ABCNews.com that he was diagnosed with dyspraxia at age 19 -- after years of living an isolated childhood with no explanation for why some of the easiest challenges proved so difficult.

"When I was growing up, I always knew there was something different about me," said Fried, adding that using buttons and zippers is still difficult.

"In school, every subject I tried, I failed," said Fried, who founded Dyspraxia USA two-and-a-half years ago to help other families with children suffering from the disorder. "Even the simplest things, like drawing and staying in the lines, was hard."

Radcliffe and Fried are hardly alone in their struggles, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities in New York City, which estimates about 6 percent of all children show some signs of dyspraxia and 70 percent of those are boys.

"It's wonderful that Radcliffe is coming out with this information, and it will be great for other youngsters with the same disorder," said Blanche Podhajski, a member of the professional advisory board of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

"Some kids are just always considered sloppy writers, or lazy, or they're called unmotivated. But that's not the case."

Podhajski, who treats children with learning disabilities at the Stern Center for Language and Learning in White River Junction, Vt., said that, like many disorders, dyspraxia manifests itself in a variety of ways, depending on the child.

"Dyspraxia may mean that a child has difficulty with speech or, instead, may have trouble performing motor movements, like using a pencil and paper," said Podhajski, adding that, like Radcliffe, many children who suffer from the disorder have poor handwriting.

With the severity of dyspraxia ranging so widely from child to child, experts say there really is no timeline for when parents should seek medical treatment for their children.

Hallett said that one sign your child may be more than just a little bit clumsy is if the condition worsens.

"Dyspraxia tends to get better, if anything, and the children will develop reasonable coordination if given adequate time," said Hallett, adding that occupational and psychical therapy are common treatments for dyspraxia. "But if the children are getting worse, then that's definitely a problem that would justify seeking out medical attention."

"[Seeking out treatment] depends on the child's own threshold in terms of comfort," added Hallett, who said that many children he has treated for dyspraxia tend to be prone to frustration.

Podhajski agrees, and says that gauging how much a child's dyspraxia is interfering with his or her life is another good way to determine whether therapy is necessary.

"The most important thing to recognize is that not everyone is the same level at every skill set," Podhajski said. "We must learn to appreciate individual differences, but if they are such that they interfere with life functions -- whether it be having trouble with handwriting of speaking properly -- it might be time to consult a pediatrician. We're all wired differently.

"It's just how that wiring impacts your functioning differently that matters," she added.

"Not everyone could go on Broadway [like Radcliffe] and be so imaginative, and not everyone will be the best shoe tiers."

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