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Man Suffers From Face-Blindness, Which Means He Struggles To Recognise His Own Family

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Meet the man who suffers from a rare condition that means he struggles to recognise his own wife and children.

Daniel Devlin, 46, from Nunhead, London, is living with prosopagnosia, also known as face-blindness, which means he struggles with recognising faces – even those of his own family.

And the painter has been forced to memorise his family’s voices and body language in order to know who they are.

But his face-blindness is so bad even picking up his kids from school can be a nightmare with Daniel once thinking another child was his son.

Daniel said: “Humans have a special ability to recognise people by seeing their faces, I really don’t have this ability.

“Maybe a good way to imagine what it’s like to have prosopagnosia is to try and recognise people by what their hands look like.

“Every person has a different hand but if someone showed you a photo of someone’s hands, you might struggle to recognise who the person is, even if that person turns out to be someone you know very well.

“I just thought that everyone was the same or maybe I just wasn’t putting in as much effort as others to remember people.”

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“If I saw my wife Katarina somewhere unexpected and she pretended not to know me, then I’m not sure I would know it was her.

“It often leaves me in some awkward situations, especially when I don’t recognise people that I should or think I know people that I don’t.

“Of all the conditions to have it’s definitely not the worst. I have learnt to recognise people based on their body language and voices instead.”

Despite having prosopagnosia his whole life, Daniel was only diagnosed in the last few years.

He said: “I heard a programme about it on the radio and realised that’s what I had.

“I had to do tests where I was shown a number of faces, then I would be shown another set of faces, some that were shown before and some new ones,

“I would have to say which ones I had seen before. My score was well below that of people without the condition.

“We also had the same kind of test but instead of faces, we would have images of horses or houses and my scores would be in line with people without the condition.”

Daniel, who lives with his wife Katarina and their children, Klara, eight, and Emil, five.

His face-blindness is so severe that he sometimes even struggles to recognise his own children.

Katarina said: “When the children are in school uniform, they all look very similar to Daniel.

“He once mistook someone else for our son, which got a very disapproving look from the boy’s mother.

“It’s not too hard to live with his condition. If we’ve met someone before I will try and tell him who it is before we speak to them.

“It does cause some awkward situations but usually we just find it funny.”

Daniel has even not recognised celebrities before.

He said: “Growing up I loved films, but my favourite stars were always those that had distinctive voices or characters like James Cagney or Woody Allen.

“Katarina is Croatian and once we saw a very famous rock band there. I met the drummer and was convinced he was Katarina’s neighbour.

“I don’t think he was used to not being recognised and he was a bit annoyed.”

Although there is no treatment for prosopagnosia, Daniel has learnt to live with the condition with the help of his friends and family.

He said: “Most people know that I have it so it’s not a problem.

“There are ways to cope. If I see someone who seems to know me then I ask them vague questions, like how are things, is work okay, until I can figure out who they are.

“I also always say ‘nice to see you’ rather than ‘nice to meet you’, just in case I have met them before.”

There is a prosopagnosia research group at Birkbeck University, London, where Daniel found out he suffered from the condition.

Researcher Joanna Parketny, who has been working with Daniel, said: “Individuals affected by this condition have trouble in recognising not only famous but also personally known faces such as friends or even family and in learning of new facial identities while having normal visual acuity, intellectual function and factual memory.

“The ability to successfully recognise faces is an incredibly important skill which allows us to navigate in the complex social environment so a deficit in face recognition may therefore have negative impact on the well-being of affected individuals and result in the heightened levels of anxiety in social situations, and in extreme but rare cases can lead to a person’s withdrawal and alienation.

“There are two types of the condition: acquired (as a result of trauma to the face-sensitive brain regions) or developmental which does not result from brain damage, but from failure to develop typical neural mechanisms that we use to recognise faces – like in Daniel’s case.

“The impact of prosopagnosia on an individual depends on the severity of the condition, their individual predisposition and personality, the presence or absence of other conditions and lastly but very importantly the attitude and awareness of the people who make our social environment.”

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