Dyspraxia and The Doctor: Why Representation Matters.

We were all expecting to see Jodie Whittaker as the new, and first female Doctor on Doctor Who. But the show had some surprises up its sleeves. KJ McDougall looks at the new episode to talk about why #RepresentationMatters


I am a white cis-gender male. I have always been represented in media. Everywhere I looked growing up, TV, movies, comic-books – there were people that looked like me. I never even had to think about until representation started to enter into the global/national discussions. (This folks is part of what we call white privilege, in case you were still hazy on the subject)  As someone with degrees in social work and education I can cite for you numerous statistics and studies about why representation matters. But it’s all academic. Despite how much I have supported the cause, as a privileged individual I couldn’t tell you how it felt to go without representation. And how powerful it can be to see it realized.


That is until last night. You see, I am not just a flabby, pasty, white guy. I am also a flabby, pasty, white guy with learning disabilities. Last night while watching Doctor Who I saw something I don’t see very often – a character who was like me. Ryan, one of the new companions on Doctor Who has a learning disability, specifically dyspraxia.


A learning disability, or LD, is a concept that is poorly understood by most of society. It has nothing to do with a mental impairment. It’s not an IQ thing.  People with LD have average (and often above average) IQs. What we have is a brain that is wired differently. For instance, with Dyslexia, a person is using an entirely different section of their brain to read than someone without it They are thus using considerably more effort and energy to do the same task. It’s not impossible, just more difficult. Dyspraxia affects gross and fine motor skills among other things. Things like tying your shoes, judging distance, and in Ryan’s case, riding a bike – can be very difficult.


I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 16, and I still suck at it. I didn’t learn to drive a car until I was 19. I’m 35 and I can barely tie my shoes. I can’t read an analog clock or throw a football. Reading is hard, writing is worse. I am so good at losing things I can do it sitting down. Like literally sitting at a desk writing, I can lose my pen. And I do…a lot.


School was horrible. Day after day being confronted by your failures and  shortcomings takes a toll. Its difficult to defend your intellect to your teachers and your peers as you make your way to and from the remedial and special education classes. These things aren’t life threatening. But they are frustrating and embarrassing and lonely and persistent. You don’t grow out of learning disabilities, you adapt to them. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time.


So when I sat down to watch some new Doctor Who I was faced with something more unexpected than tentacle monsters or alien hunters. I was faced with something had been missing for so long, I forgot that it was gone. That opening scene with Ryan talking on YouTube, stood out to me. More like screamed really. As Ryan talked, my mind reeled – I knew those words. 


I didn’t just recognize them. They didn’t seem just a bit familiar. I KNEW them. Those were my words. My thoughts. Before he even said it, I knew he was like me. That casual need to defend you abilities just because you can’t do something….normal.


And when he did say that word “Dyspraxia” my throat suddenly got tight.My eyes began to sting. Outside I was still and attentive. But inside I was floored with….I dunno…excitement? Relief? Pride? It was just one big wave of “Holy shit!?”  


No one in the room noticed. I didn’t say anything. The episode continue to play and the rest of the world just moved on. It wasn’t a big deal to anybody else, no great revelation. But I was stuck in that moment. And as of writing this I still am. “How much would that have meant to 9 year old me?” I keep thinking. To be able to sit down with a show I loved, something popular, and be able to say “See he’s not stupid. He can do things. And so can I” To see something that was apart of me, that has caused me both pain and pride, to see that in something that I loved, something that was important to me, some that was normal – would have meant everything to me. Even now, I have friends and family. I have a job, a wife, a kids, a mortgage – I don’t need pretend heroes the way I did when I was a kid. At least that’s what I thought. Until last night.    



Usually we have a little bio down here about the author, but instead we want to extend our soap box to you. However small it may be at the moment. If you have a moment like this and would like to write about it – we would be interested in publishing it. Or – of you don’t – if you are not represented in comics or movies or tv today and you want to share about that. Drop us a line. #Representation Matters.   


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