Colin Farrell's Son Has Angelman Syndrome—Here's What That Is

The actor and his son's mother share conservatorship over their teenage son, James, who is unable to take care of himself.

Actor Colin Farrell said that his son, James Farrell, has Angelman syndrome, a rare developmental disorder. Colin and James' mother, Kim Bordenave, are co-conservators of their son, which makes them responsible for managing James' personal needs and medical decisions.

E! News obtained the court petition Farrell and Bordenave submitted in 2021 when their son was 17 years old. According to the petition, James "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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The petition also said that James isn't able to express who he would like to be his conservators, but his parents "are sure" that if he "could voice his opinion over who he would want" for the role, he would want Colin and Bordenave.

What is Angelman syndrome, and how does someone develop it? Doctors explain.

Defining Angelman Syndrome

Angelman syndrome is a complex genetic order that primarily 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, told Health. They may also have a smaller head size, according to Medline Plus.

Cause

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, told Health.

The condition is genetic, Santos said, "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.

Symptoms

People with Angelman syndrome usually start to develop noticeable symptoms by six to 12 months, Dr. Goldstein said. 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

Treatment

"Treatment involves treating the symptoms," Dr. Goldstein said. That may mean taking medication to try to lower the risk of seizures or even having surgery in an attempt to prevent seizures if medications don't work, Dr. Goldstein said.

"If they are experiencing behavioral concerns, they may see a psychologist or other mental health provider to [help] focus on ways to improve that," Santos said. 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, Santos explained.

Patients with Angelman syndrome may also undergo physical therapy to build strength and coordination if they have mobility issues, Santos said. "They may have all or some of these treatments, and it really varies on the person," Santos added.

Long Term Outlook

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

Dr. Goldstein said 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," Dr. Goldstein said. "Sometimes these problems can't be addressed easily by someone who doesn't know them," Dr. Goldstein said.

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 said. "It is the developmental delays and language that may lead to them needing a conservatorship in order to help support them," Santos explained.

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

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