Colin Farrell Requests Conservatorship Over Son With Rare Genetic Condition That Affects Speech


Actor Colin Farrell has requested a conservatorship for his son, James Farrell, who has a rare genetic disorder known as Angelman syndrome.

According to court documents obtained by E! News, Colin and James' mother, Kim Bordenave, are requesting to become co-conservators of their son. If granted, Colin and Bordenave would be responsible for managing the personal needs and medical decisions of James.

The petition states that James has Angelman syndrome, "is nonverbal and has issues with his fine motor skills, making him unable to properly care for his own physical health and well-being and requiring him to need assistance in preparing food, eating, bathing, and clothing himself."

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What is Angelman syndrome?

Angelman syndrome is a complex genetic order that mostly impacts the nervous system, according to Medline Plus. It can lead to developmental delays, intellectual disability, severe speech impairment, and problems with movement and balance.

Many children with Angelman syndrome have epilepsy, i.e. seizures, Ira Goldstein, MD, director of the Center for Neurotrauma at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Health. They may also have a smaller head size, Medline Plus says.

How does someone develop Angelman syndrome?

It's a condition that people are born with. "There are no known risk factors for Angelman syndrome," Melissa Santos, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Health.

The condition is genetic, she says, "so there is some thought that if you have someone in your family with it, you have a higher risk." Overall, though, the condition is rare, affecting one in 12,000 to 20,000 people, per Medline Plus.

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What are the symptoms of Angelman syndrome?

People with Angelman syndrome usually start to develop noticeable symptoms by six to 12 months, Dr. Goldstein says. Other signs of the condition show up in early childhood. According to Medline Plus, those can include:

  • Small head size
  • Developmental delays
  • A happy, excitable demeanor in children
  • Hyperactivity
  • A short attention span
  • Fascination with water
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Intellectual disability
  • Severe speech impairment
  • Seizures
  • Scoliosis

How is Angelman syndrome treated?

"Treatment involves treating the symptoms," Dr. Goldstein says. That may mean taking medication to try to lower the risk of seizures or even having surgery in an attempt to prevent them if medications fail.

"If they are experiencing behavioral concerns, they may see a psychologist or other mental health provider to focus on ways to improve that," Santos says. If a child with Angelman syndrome is non-verbal or has limited language abilities, they may see a speech therapist to learn how to communicate—either through sign language, an iPad, or other options, she says.

Patients with Angelman syndrome may also undergo physical therapy to build strength and coordination if they have mobility issues, Santos says. "Some may have to see all, or some of these, and it really varies on the person," she adds.

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What happens to people with Angelman syndrome when they grow up?

"These kids cannot grow up to live by themselves," Daniel Ganjian, MD, pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Health. "They need to have someone with them."

Dr. Goldstein says that it's "extremely unlikely" that someone with Angelman syndrome will be able to live on their own. "They are poorly able to communicate to people who don't know them well, and they often have significant impairment," he says. "Sometimes these problems can't be addressed easily by someone who doesn't know them."

That's where a conservatorship may come in. "Most adults with Angelman can speak up to five words and less than 70% can communicate using other resources," Santos says. "It is the developmental delays and language that may lead to them needing a conservatorship in order to help support them."

In some cases, adults with Angelman syndrome may move into a group care setting, Dr. Goldstein says.

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