Dwarfism occurs when growth is abnormally slowed or stopped before an individual reaches a normal height. Generally in human beings an adult with a height under four foot 10 inches is considered a dwarf; however, many of the sideshow dwarfs were under three foot tall. Dwarfism occurs in all races and ethnicities and more than 80 percent of dwarfs have parents and siblings that are of average height .
Dwarfism can result from one of literally hundreds of different medical conditions. However, Achondroplasia, a genetic condition responsible for the most common form of dwarfism found in humans, accounting for nearly 70 percent of all dwarfs. Achondroplasia is caused by a mutation in the FGFR3 gene which controls the growth factor receptor that inhibits bone growth. Achondroplasia usually produces disproportionately shorter upper arms and legs and a longer body trunk, often referred to as disproportionate dwarfism, in those afflicted with this condition. However, Achondroplasics typically have normal intelligence and the ability to lead productive, independent lives.
Growth hormone deficiency is another cause of dwarfism. This medical condition results from problems with the pituitary gland that cause the body to produce insufficient amounts of growth hormone, also called somatotropin. The pituitary gland is connected to the brain and is often referred to as the “master gland”. This gland, also called the hypophysis, controls many of the human body’s endocrine functions through the secretion of the following six important hormones:
1.) thyroid-stimulating hormone
3.) adrenocorticotropic hormone
4.) luteinizing hormone
5.) follicle-stimulating hormone
6.) growth hormone.
There are also a number of ways that growth hormone deficiency can come about including physical damage to the pituitary gland, poor diet, genetic causes, and stress. Unlike Achondroplasia, grow hormone deficiency can now be treated with injections of growth hormone, if the injections are given at the correct developmental stages.
Dwarfism caused by growth hormone deficiency may also differ from that caused by Achondroplasia in that all body parts are proportional smaller. This is often referred to as “proportionate dwarfism”. In the past, a proportionate dwarf was often called a “midget”. This term dates back to 1800’s, during the height of the “freak show” era, and was generally applied to dwarfs who were displayed for public amusement. This is part of the reason it is not considered politically correct to use the term midget today.This term is now considered offensive by most people of short stature and is no longer used to describe people in polite conversation. Terms such as dwarf, little person, LP, and a person of short stature are all acceptable, but like most human beings, those afflicted with dwarfism would preferred to be called by their name rather than by a label.
Proportionate dwarfism is quite rare today because of medical advances. However, one of the most severe forms of proportion dwarfism is primordial dwarfism. This condition is a prenatal condition that results in extreme proportionate dwarfism lasting through the individuals life. The cause is not known and there are as of yet no effective treatments for primordial dwarfism. Individuals with primordial dwarfism do not usually live beyond the age of 30. Fortunately, this is a rare condition and it is estimated that fewer than 100 individuals in the world are afflicted with this disorder.
The first individual officially recognized with primordial dwarfism was Caroline Crachami. Not much is know about her. Born in Palermo, Italy in 1815, Caroline traveled with a “Dr. Gilligan” as an exhibit in Europe. In 1824, just before her death, Caroline Crachami was measured by a journalist named William Jerdan. At that time, Caroline’s height was 19 ½ inches, the circumference of her waist was 11 ¼ inches, the length of her foot was 3 1/8 inches, and she weighted 5 pounds.
There are more than 200 different types of medical conditions resulting in an estimated 30,000 people in the U.S. and more than 600,000 people in the world, who are afflicted with dwarfism. For more details on some of the other types of dwarfism see MORE TYPES OF DWARFISM
In 1957, well-known actor Billy Barty made a public appeal to all people with dwarfism in America to meet with him. Billy Barty and 20 other little people joined together in Reno, Nevada to found Little People of America (LPA). Today, LPA has more than 6000 members across the United States and internationally. LPA is a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families. For more information on little people see the LPA WEBSITE.
In the Dwarfism community the word “average” is preferred instead of the word normal. For example: “Average sized parents” rather then “normal sized parents”. As mentioned above, the term midget is considered offensive by this community.
Dwarfism is not a reason to assume that someone is incapable. Little people can do just about anything an average sized person can although sometimes in a different way. Many members of the Dwarfism community do not feel that they are disabled; however, people with dwarfism are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).