"The Middle" Actor Has Osteogenesis Imperfecta

OI (also called brittle bone disease) doesn't slow down this child actor

Atticus Shafer. Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Who Is Atticus Shaffer?

Atticus Shaffer has been playing the amusingly odd Brick on ABC's The Middle since its debut in 2009. There's a lot that's intentionally quirky about the character, but if you've noticed something unusual over the years about the little guy's shoulders or the way he walks, it's not an acting choice but the result of osteogenesis imperfecta. According to a Shriner's newsletter, Atticus has Type IV OI, and his mother has Type I.

What Is Osteogenesis Imperfecta?

Osteogenesis Imperfecta is another name for "brittle bone disease." This rare disorder causes fragile bones, but may also cause bone deformity, fatigue, and other problems. The brittle bone disease has no cure; it is a lifelong disorder.

There are six different types of Osteogenesis Imperfecta.  Type IV, which Atticus has, may be mild to moderately severe.  People with this form of the disorder are usually fairly short, and are prone to both bone fractures and bone deformities. As a result, they must be extremely aware of their surroundings and careful to avoid falls or impacts.  

For an actor, Osteogenesis Imperfecta can be both a blessing and a curse. Atticus's unusual physical appearance almost certainly gave him an edge when it came to auditioning for the role. His fragility, however, has the potential to be a serious liability.

Award for an Actor with a Disability

Atticus received the RJ Mitte Diversity Award at the 2010 Media Access Awards "for an actor with a physical or emotional disability with limitations that would make an acting career seem implausible." According to a press release from the Writer's Guild of America West, "The Media Access Awards honors individuals and organizations in the entertainment and broadcast industries for their efforts in promoting the awareness of the disability experience, accessibility for people with disabilities, and the accurate depiction of characters with disabilities."

In May of 2011, Atticus appeared on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that focused on another boy with the brittle-bone disease and his family. In an excerpt from the show on YouTube, Atticus welcomes nine-year-old Patrick Sharrock to The Middle set, gives him an actor's chair with his name on it, and introduces him to other cast members.

Atticus also says of the diagnosis they share, "It's technically called a disability, but I don't see it in any way disabling us. I'm able to do all the things I really want to do, just a little differently and more carefully."

How Atticus Thinks of His "Disability"

The Hollywood Mom Blog quotes Atticus as saying of OI, "It's a small portion of me and nothing more. I take extra precautions where I step to make sure it's safe. And I shouldn't do anything with heavy lifting or anything that could make me slip and fall." And, of course, he should probably use a stunt double for scenes like the one where Brick gets hit by a beer can!

Fortunately for Atticus, his particular type of OI is only moderately severe -- which means he has no particular reason to worry about illness or a shortened lifespan. In addition, while fractures are quite common among children with Type IV OI, the likelihood of fractures decreases after puberty.

Continue Reading