At the age of two, his now 14-year-old son James was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the nervous system and can cause developmental delays, speech impairment and intellectual disability.
At an annual gala for Angelman syndrome research in Chicago, the 41-year-old actor spoke to Today.com about what he’s learned from his experience as a father of a child with special needs.
“The struggles of a child with special needs can be so brutal that they can tear at the very fabric of your heart, but the love shared and the pure strength and heroism observed is the needle and thread that mends all tears,” he told Today reporter Christina Poletto.
Farrell also stressed the importance of finding community when you are a parent of a child with special needs.
“Reach out,” he said. “Find support. Only you will ever know truly what it is to feel what you feel, but you will recognise yourself in the struggles and triumphs of others when you hear their stories. You are not alone.”
The father-of-two has always emphasised this message. According to ABC News, ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ star first spoke publicly about his son’s diagnosis in 2012.
“I decided, after consulting with James’ mother [model Kim Bordenave], that I wanted to talk publicly about the pride and joy I had in our son,” he told InStyle at the time. “He has enriched my life, but I don’t want to minimise the trials that so many families go through: the fear, consternation, frustration, and pain.”
“We share in the smallest victories — the first words at age six or seven, being able to feed oneself at nine and getting the seizures under control,” he continued. “When you’re the parent of a child with special needs, it’s important to feel that you’re not alone.”
“When you’re the parent of a child with special needs, it’s important to feel that you’re not alone."”
There is no known cure for Angelman syndrome, which is sometimes misdiagnosed as autism or cerebral palsy. However, Today.com reports that there are roughly six medical opportunities that could improve the lives of people with the disorder in the near future.
While Farrell admits that it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that your child has a disorder, he revealed that it’s important to stay positive and hopeful.
“I would humbly say to parents of a child with a recent diagnosis of any disorder that while they may well be experiencing the death of one dream, that dream of having a healthy child, there are a thousand dreams and milestones that are yet to reveal themselves,” he said.
Since Farrell’s son was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome, the Irish actor has continued to raise awareness of the disorder and to provide support to the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics (FAST), which hosts a gala for Angelman syndrome research every year.
Farrell also has another son, Henry, with ex-girlfriend Alicja Bachleda-Curuś.
This story was originally published on the Canadian version of HuffPost.