Dwarfism Q and A

What is Dwarfism?

According to the Little People of America, dwarfism is a genetic or medical condition characterized by a mature adult height of 4 feet 10 inches or less for men or women. Dwarfism is present in less than 200,000 people in the United States.

  • Growth Hormone Deficiency: This publication presents an overview of dwarfism, including causes, characteristics, and long-term outcomes.

What Are the Different Types of Dwarfism?

Achondroplasia is the most common type of dwarfism. Approximately 70 percent of dwarfism cases are achondroplasia. Achondroplasia involves unusually short arms and legs. People with achondroplasia are an average of 4 feet tall. Other conditions that can lead to dwarfism include diastrophic dysplasia, hypochondroplasia, osteogenesis imperfecta, pseudoachondroplasia, and spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (also known as SED). Achondroplasia occurs most frequently, with SED and diastrophic dysplasia following in frequency.

Is "Midget" an Acceptable Term?

Most people with dwarfism object to the term "midget" to describe them. Avoid labeling someone with dwarfism if possible. However, if you must use a term to describe them, most would prefer "little person," "LP," "dwarf," or "person of short stature."

  • What is Dwarfism? A professor of journalism offers insights and history about the origins of the term "midget."

What is the Long-Term Prognosis for a Dwarfism Diagnosis?

Current treatments available cannot prevent or resolve dwarfism. Scientists are researching treatment options that might help people with dwarfism grow taller. Human growth hormone treatments can increase bone growth during the first year of life. It's common for people with dwarfism to experience orthopedic complications that could require surgery. For example, spinal stenosis may require surgery.

Is Dwarfism a Disability?

Although dwarfism can present physical challenges, the condition does not cause disability of a person with dwarfism. A person with dwarfism has no intellectual disability, and the condition does not need to be "cured." But dwarfism is included in the Americans with Disabilities Act list of conditions.

How Active Can Little People Be?

People with dwarfism typically lead active lifestyles, performing most of the same tasks and activities as people of normal height. Little people can have families, work, drive cars, and exercise. People with dwarfism may fight obesity due to some physical challenges, so it's important for them to engage in regular exercise to avoid weight problems. Swimming and bicycling are two activities that can be ideal for little people. Running and walking long distances may be difficult.

Can Airbags Be Dangerous for People with Dwarfism?

It may be necessary to disconnect airbags in cars to avoid injury to little people in case of an accident.

  • Airbag Deactivation: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers guidelines and information about deactivating vehicle airbags.

How is Dwarfism Passed Down Genetically?

Most dwarfism occurs due to a random genetic abnormality in the sperm or egg. A parent with dwarfism can also pass the gene on to a child, or a child could be born without the condition.

  • Dwarfism Basics: This Web page presents various ways dwarfism can occur, including parents of normal height having a child with dwarfism.

What is Considered Offensive to Little People?

People with dwarfism may have trouble reaching objects, and they may have trouble operating some equipment. In these situations, offer assistance to a little person. Some little people prefer to speak with others at eye level, and others do not mind height differences. Never pat or kiss a little person on the head; most little people would find this demeaning.

  • Disability Etiquette: This publication provides tips on interacting with people with spinal disabilities, common with dwarfism.
  • Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt: Chahira Kozma authored this article about the history of dwarfs in ancient Egypt.

What Are the Genetic Discoveries Regarding Dwarfism?

Researchers have learned a lot about the genetic causes of dwarfism since discovering the achondroplasia gene in 1994. A person with dwarfism has a 50 percent chance of passing the condition down to offspring. Two parents with achondroplasia will result in a 25 percent chance of dwarfism from each parent. Their child could receive one dwarfism and one non-dwarfism gene, resulting in dwarfism. The child might also receive both dwarfism genes (double-dominant achondroplasia), which results in fatal birth defects. Approximately 80 percent of dwarfism cases occur as a new mutation, meaning that neither parent has the condition. Although having a baby with dwarfism can be frightening, most little people lead full and productive lives.

How Does LPA Stand on the Genetic Discoveries of Dwarfism?

LPA has concerns about eugenics movements in the medical community in the pursuit of creating a perfect child. While prenatal testing to identify babies with a double-dominant achondroplastic gene could be beneficial for avoiding fatal birth defects, prenatal testing for other reasons is concerning. The LPA seeks to educate the public about the quality of life possible for little people to discourage prenatal testing conducted to avoid having a child with dwarfism.

  • Inheriting Dwarfism: A geneticist with Stanford University explains dominant and recessive dwarfism.

What Should Parents Do After Receiving a Dwarfism Diagnosis for a Child?

Parents play an important role in managing dwarfism for a child. Watch the child carefully for muscle weakness, problems with bowel or bladder function, and respiratory issues. Maintain ongoing treatment and supervision with specialists who will offer guidance and care for your child.

What Are the Physical Concerns for Very Young Dwarfism Patients?

Babies and toddlers with dwarfism can experience serious problems, so professional evaluation is essential. The top of the spinal column could compress the brain stem in a condition known as foramen magnum. Sleep apnea can occur with this condition, and surgery is required to resolve it. Children can also experience hydrocephalus, which involves excess fluid collecting around the brain. If hydrocephalus becomes severe, a surgeon may need to implant a shunt to drain some fluid. Obstructive apnea is another common condition that involves interrupted breathing during sleep. Sometimes, children may need monitoring and supplemental oxygen until they outgrow this condition.

What Are the Surgical Dangers for People With Dwarfism?

During surgery, children with dwarfism cannot have their necks hyperextended. It's also important for anesthesiologists to regulate anesthesia dosages carefully to match children's weights and not ages.

What Are Some Common Physical Complications of Dwarfism?

People with dwarfism usually have bowed legs and decreased muscle tone. It's also common for them to have disproportionately large heads for their bodies. Spinal curvature and short arms and legs are also typical complications of dwarfism.

  • Achondroplasia Guide: Learn about common ailments and complications associated with dwarfism on this page.

How Should Parents Help a Child with Dwarfism Cope With Peers?

Parents should base expectations of a child with dwarfism on the child's age, not the child's size. It's also important to make modifications such as lowering light switches and making stools available to give the child independence. Teach the child how to deal with people who may not understand dwarfism. Resolve issues of teasing or bullying at school by speaking with school administrators.

  • Dwarfism Information: This Web page offers tips for helping a child with dwarfism learn how to cope with the condition.

How Can Surgery Help Dwarfism?

Surgery can help relieve physical issues with legs and the spine. Some people with dwarfism also choose to undergo multiple leg-lengthening surgeries. Most people in the dwarfism community do not agree with surgical procedures for children unless the surgery will improve a child's health. Leg-lengthening surgery does not fit this description.

Can Parents Adopt a Child With Dwarfism?

Little People of America offers an Adoption Committee to help place children with dwarfism into loving and secure homes. This volunteer committee works in a facilitator capacity to bring children and families together.

What Are Good Resources About Dwarfism?

Little People of America works to increase awareness of dwarfism and issues surrounding this condition. LPA also has national parent coordinators available to assist parents. Books, videos, and websites can also provide information and support for people with dwarfism and their families. Look for "Little People in America" and "Living with Difference," both by Joan Ablon. "Dwarfism: The Family & Professional Guide," published by the Short Stature Foundation and Information Center, is another informative book. Children may benefit from "Never Sell Yourself Short," written by Stephanie Riggs and Bill Youmans.

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