Dwarfism is a condition in which a person of any ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender does not reach a height greater than 4’10” as an adult. Despite their shorter-than-average stature, many people with dwarfism may successfully lead lives that are as full as those of people of average height. This does not, however, mean that theirs is a life free of difficulty. Functioning in a world that is designed for people of average height often takes greater effort and at times may even lead to feelings of frustration. The best way to achieve a well-adapted lifestyle is to understand what supports are necessary to aid one’s life and to maintain good health.
Classifications and Causes
There are many different types of dwarfism; however, they are typically classified as either disproportional dwarfism or proportional dwarfism. When a person has disproportional dwarfism, their limbs, head, and torso are not proportionate. For example, an individual may have a torso or head that is average or even above average size but limbs that are smaller. This type of dwarfism is genetic, most often caused by abnormalities in the bone and cartilage called skeletal dysplasias and less often by the rare group of disorders known as spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia. The most common type of disproportional dwarfism, and dwarfism in general, is called achondroplasia.
With proportional dwarfism, a person’s body parts are all proportionate; however, they are smaller than average. This form of dwarfism is generally caused by deficiencies in metabolism or hormones or any of potentially hundreds of other conditions. Proportional dwarfism is often noticeable at birth, although in some cases, it may take longer, up to early childhood, to appear. Pituitary dwarfism, which is also medically referred to as growth hormone deficiency, falls under the classification of proportional dwarfism.
Medicine and Surgeries
People with dwarfism most often seek medical care for a range of complications associated with their condition. This often involves having surgery to correct or reduce these problems. Examples of surgical procedures include the implantation of a shunt in efforts to reduce pressure on the brain caused by hydrocephalus. Other surgeries may be performed to aid breathing if necessary, to relieve compression of the spinal cord, or to correct bowed legs and other deformities that may be caused by dwarfism.
In some cases, however, people may seek out or require treatments that are intended to add height. Hormone therapy is often given to people with proportionate dwarfism caused by a deficiency in hormones. This is typically administered by injection and is generally given to children and teens as they grow. Some people may voluntarily choose to undergo surgery that adds length to their limbs. This limb-lengthening procedure may only be performed on those with certain types of dwarfism that are classified as disproportionate. Limb lengthening is the subject of controversy due to the pain and the potential for problematic side-effects. People who choose this surgery must make an informed decision and weigh any negatives against the benefits of added height.
People with dwarfism may live a normal life, doing many of the same things as people of average height. This often requires the use of certain aids to make everyday things more accessible in the home, workplace, and school. Workplace and school accommodations include automatic door openers for people who may not be able to reach door handles that are situated at traditional heights. Ramps may also be necessary for people who use scooters or wheelchairs. Offices or cubicles may be set up with adjustable work stations and miniature keyboards. Step ladders, reaching devices, and light switch extenders can accommodate the needs of little people both at home and at work. Lowering items around the house is a simple way to make them more accessible and easier to use. A microwave, for example, may be lowered to a sturdy surface at a more suitable height, or hooks holding towels or coats may be moved for convenience. Driving is also a challenge for people with dwarfism, but cars may be adapted to be more accessible and meet their needs. Adaptive equipment for cars includes hand controls, pedal extensions, raised flooring, and the addition of cushions.
Despite the many positive advances for people with dwarfism, the need for support groups still remains. There are numerous organizations and groups that enable individuals and their families to interact with others who have dwarfism. These groups help create a sense of community in addition to providing support. One of the most widely recognized groups is Little People of America. This is an organization that not only provides support but also a wealth of information to educate and raise awareness. While some organizations or groups provide support and information for dwarfism in general, others are for specific types of dwarfism or for children only. Support groups can be found in countries around the world.
- WebMD: Dwarfism
- Little People of America: Frequently Asked Questions About Dwarfism
- Growth Hormone Deficiency (Dwarfism) (PDF)
- Mayo Clinic Treatment and Drugs
- Fact Sheet on Dwarfism (PDF)
- Dwarfism: Accomodations
- Surgeries for Achondroplasia
- Dwarfism and Bone Dysplasias Treatment
- What Is Dwarfism?
- DNA Learning Center: What Is Achondroplasia?
- Accommodation Ideas for People With Dwarfism
- Automobile Adaptations for Dwarfs
- Birth Defects: Achondroplasia Overview
- A Rare Disorder: Primordial Dwarfism
- Restricted Growth (Dwarfism) Overview
- Times Health Guide: Growth Hormone Deficiency (Pituitary Dwarfism)
- Medical Encyclopedia: Achondroplasia
- Understanding Dwarfism Awareness and Support Program: Basic Facts