NINE out of ten people have never heard of the rare neurological condition called ataxia, according to Ataxia UK, the leading charity in the UK for people affected by the disorder.

Sufferers and campaigners alike hope this can be changed after International Ataxia Awareness Day, which takes place today.

The day will see volunteers out and about spreading understanding about the disability.

Ataxia is a term for a group of disorders that affect co-ordination, balance and speech.

It is a rare condition, with 10,000 adults and around 500 children living in the UK with it.

The lack of public knowledge is something which can make living with the condition even more difficult.

Dawn Wooldridge, 52, of Laindon, has had ataxia from birth.

She said: “A lot of people mistake you for being drunk.”

She explained that her condition has caused her to fall in public and have people simply walk past believing she was intoxicated.

This has led to some sufferers carrying cards saying “I’m not drunk, I have ataxia”.

It seems it is not just the public who are lacking in knowledge, as from Dawn’s experience there are not enough doctors who are aware of the condition either.

Dawn said: “Quite a lot of doctors still haven’t heard of it, which is a problem.”

Dawn was eventually diagnosed with episodic ataxia, a rare form of the condition, at the age of 35.

She had previously been diagnosed with epilepsy and it was not until her then 12-year-old daughter, Maddie Cudmore, had an appointment at Great Ormond Street Hospital that the correct diagnosis was received.

A doctor visiting from the neighbouring National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery observed the symptoms of ataxia and both Dawn and her daughter were diagnosed with it.

For Dawn, episodic ataxia manifested itself in the form of sudden “mini strokes” when she was young which would cause her speech to slur and paralysis to occur on either or both sides of her body.

The condition is progressive, and Dawn now suffers every day and is a wheelchair user.

Ataxia limits her life and means if she is out and has a severe episode, she has a couple of hours to get home and take her medication before it becomes unbearable.

Dawn runs a support group on the last Wednesday of each month at the Four Seasons pub in her home town of Laindon for anyone affected by ataxia.

She also runs the Episodic Ataxia Support Group on Facebook for sufferers from all over the world, which helps bring people together from as far afield as New Zealand.

On Awareness Day Dawn confirmed she will be wearing her ataxia t-shirt and letting as many people as possible know about the condition.

This follows on from a sponsored walk she undertook through London on Sunday September 23 for Ataxia UK.

This reflects a change in Dawn’s attitude in recent times.

Whereas she used to hide away to avoid being seen in public with her condition, she now ventures out proudly.

She said: “I’ve decided to let people see the whole me.”

The day is organised by Ataxia UK