No he wasn’t dumb…slow…or retarded. “Dopey” had a condition known as Angelman syndrome (AS).
Angelman syndrome (AS) is a neurogenetic disorder (prevalence 1/12000), characterized by developmental delay, virtual absence of speech, peculiar organization of movement, characteristic facial features, sleep disturbances, seizures, and despite all that, a happy demeanor.
The condition was first known as “Happy puppet syndrome”.
Although this syndrome was first described by Harry Angelman in 1965, it was Walt Disney who presented an original depiction of Angelman syndrome in his first full-length animated film.
You could say that “Dopey” put Angelman syndrome on the map! Even though relatively few people knew about this obscure form of epilepsy, even today.
If you review his character, you’ll find an excellent (and sometimes innocent) picture of Angelman syndrome. Right down to “Dopey’s” occasional myoclonic jerks and tremors and a generalized clonic seizure while he was asleep.
Surprisingly, the character was NOT taken from any person with disabilities, and yes, some important data is lacking, like developmental and past medical history.
But despite that, the features presented in the film are strikingly consistent with Angelman syndrome.
Like most people with Angelman syndrome, “Dopey” has no speech (although Mel Blanc was drafted to be his voice), yet he does show eagerness to communicate.
His understanding of speech is rather good, and he manages to express himself by efficient mimic and gesture.
He has a wide smiling mouth and a happy disposition. He enjoys playing jokes and tricks, and he can be overwhelmingly affectionate.
And he’s definitely the most popular of The Seven Dwarfs among audiences.
He’s silly but sane, with a seizure disorder. And he’s famous!
So, even though the name “Dopey” is pejorative and ill-adapted to people with Angelman syndrome, this lovable character could help present a friendly and positive picture of those with the condition.
And perhaps he can even help spread knowledge and awareness of Angelman syndrome to physicians, caregivers, and the public at large.
He’s even got his own Facebook page!
Another article of interest: Epilepsy Hall of Fame http://epilepsytalk.com/2009/09/13/epilepsy-hall-of-fame/
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