- BC Games
Station: They're small, that's all
Envision yourself in this scenario.
You’re in a grocery store. You notice a mom approaching with a child with dwarfism.
Should you look? Should you look away? You don’t want to gawk, but you don’t want to seem standoffish either. Should you say ‘Hello’? Spark up a conversation? And if you’ve made it that far, should you ask about the child’s condition?
Parents with children with dwarfism say all the above is completely unnecessary. Do what you’d normally do if you saw a woman and a child in a store.
“There have been times when we’ve been at the farm market, and we’re walking through the crowds and I can just hear in the background whispers: ‘Look at that little girl,’” said Jenny Garlini. “We’ve had people ask to take her photo. And so it’s really about the dialogue and patience more than anything.
“My philosophy has been it’s about the awareness. I want to be able to give Gabi the right tools to be able to explain herself one day.”
Three-year-old Gabi Williamson has achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism.
For her parents Garlini and Bailey Williamson, and her brother, five-year-old Porter, it’s been a huge learning curve — not only with their personal daily challenges, but with dealing with the reactions.
“Sometimes it’s the parents who need the support sometimes more than the children,” said Williamson, noting from time to time he’s had to get his “Papa Bear” on and ask people to move along when approaching his daughter.
“And sometimes you just want to get your groceries like everyone else,” said Tammy Isaachsen.
Tammy is the single mother of 22-month-old Declan Forcier and five-year-old Makenna. Declan has been diagnosed with the same dwarfism as Gabi.
Achondroplasia affects about 70 per cent of individuals with dwarfism. There are however, over 200 distinct types. More than 80 per cent of individuals with dwarfism have parents and siblings of average height — something that applies to both the Williamson and Isaachsen families. Achondroplasia occurs in approximately one in every 25,000 to 40,000 births and in B.C., where there are about 45,000 births every year — one to two babies a year.
Oddly enough, the only two Cowichan families affected live 90 seconds down the road from each other in Cowichan Bay. The Williamson family moved to the bay a year ago from the Okanagan.
“I almost fell off my chair when I found out,” said Isaachsen.
The families were introduced by the Little People of British Columbia Society, a group that represents and supports individuals with dwarfism and their families.
“I was told that a family was moving to Vancouver Island that had a little girl with dwarfism. When I contacted this family to introduce myself, I was stunned when I heard where they were moving.”
Each family sought out LPBC shortly after their children were born.
“When you first find out it’s a shock and it’s nice knowing and finding out there are other people who are going through something similar,” said Isaachsen.
The Williamsons and Isaachsen couldn’t say enough good things about the society. Meeting other little people and hearing their stories has been the most beneficial.
“It’s not uncommon to have members with other issues. Some are proportional but just small. There’s a lot of different things,” said Williamson. “It reminds us every day this is not a bad thing. It’s like, ‘Holy cow, it could be a lot worse.’”
Gabi and Declan are both very healthy. Nonetheless, appointments with various specialists are frequent. Some include orthodontics, hearing, speech, occupational therapy, sleep, and having an MRI performed of the brain. Appointments are most prevalent the first year after birth.
Both families have come to grips with having a long road ahead.
“You have to think about things like door knobs, stools, light switches and step ladders,” said Williamson. “It’s all things that will help them become independent.”
Even now, things like finding shoes that fit Declan properly is a tough task.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, but you quickly become an expert on dwarfism,” said Isaachsen.
They also keep what activities they can do in mind.
“There’s no impact sports, no gymnastics, and no trampolines,” said Garlini. “But things that are good for them are swimming, basketball and other low-impact sports.”
Gabi and Declan will soon find inspiration in LPBC teen member Danielle Kisser, who’s not only kicked butt in basketball, but swimming as well. She recently qualified for the Para-World Championships in Montreal
“She can do anything and she wants to be a mentor to these kids,” said Garlini.
“The people part of the (society) kind of goes through an evolution,” added Williamson. “They grow up and meet friends and are inspired and then they too become the mentors.”
Oct. 1 marked the beginning of Dwarfism Awareness Month.
“As a parent of a little person, we just want people to know that they are like any child their age, despite their short stature,” said Isaachsen. “They might need a little extra help or a stool to reach something, but the message is this; they’re small, that’s all."