By Becky Kennedy
For as long as I can remember, I have been different from everyone else. The reason is that I have achondroplasia. Even though that is the most common form of dwarfism, I am still different from most people, since dwarfism itself is very rare. Achondroplasia affects somewhere between one in 15,000 and one in 40,000 people. When I was growing up, and even now as an adult, I have been noticed because of my dwarfism. Some people — mostly little kids — stare at me and whisper things such as “Look at her!” and “Why is she so little?”
When I was a kid, the comments and the stares bothered me a lot. But after years of experiencing it, and knowing that it’s mostly from children, I’ve gotten used to it. I really don’t mind at all. In fact, by the time I became a teenager, I realized that when little kids make comments, it is my duty to educate them and explain to them the reason why I am so short, especially since they have probably never seen a dwarf before.
Because I rarely get to meet other people with dwarfism in my everyday life, I feel blessed to be part of an organization like Little People of America, which sponsors regional and national conferences as well as camping trips and other activities. I fit right in with everyone because they know what I’m going through. I have friends who are dwarfs, and, like me, they have experienced curious kids staring at them and making comments. So I feel like that’s even more reason to educate people about dwarfism. Also, whenever I am at an LPA event, I can just be myself and not worry about having to explain to people why I’m short. Regionals and camping trips are a time for having fun and relaxing, not answering questions.
My life as a dwarf hasn’t just affected me emotionally and mentally, but also physically. Like probably every other dwarf in the world, I sometimes have trouble reaching items that are above my head. Sometimes I need help; sometimes I can get it myself if I have a stepstool available. But occasionally even that’s not enough. For instance, the cabinets in our house are so high that, whenever I want to make dinner, I need a stepstool and a pair of tongs to grab things that are on the upper shelves. Sometimes the best solution is simply to move items I need regularly to a lower shelf.
Like most young adults who are around my age, I want to be independent, so I try to do things by myself. There are times, though, when it’s easier said than done. I mean, I appreciate a little help every once in a while, but it is frustrating to have to rely on others as often as I do. But I am proud of myself because even though I need help more often than I’d like, I usually find a way to get it done. To me, there’s always a way. It’s just a matter of figuring out what the right way is.
At twenty-six, dwarfism doesn’t seem to affect me as much as it did when I was a kid. I guess I’ve just gotten used to finding out how to do things a little differently from most people, along with asking others for help. That was especially true in learning how to drive. It took me a while to get my license, mostly because my dad and I had to share his car until I got my own. That was a challenge because, every time I wanted to drive, we had to attach pedal-extenders and make adjustments to the driver’s seat so that I would more or less feel comfortable. It was frustrating because it took about ten minutes just to get the pedal-extenders on. Since my dad and I were sharing his car, this routine had to be repeated every time I wanted to drive.
It wasn’t until I got my college graduation present from my parents — a car — that I was finally able to be as independent as I wanted to be. We visited a few dealers until we finally found a car that felt like it was practically made for me. The pedal-extenders fit like a glove, I felt comfortable in it, and the best part of all was that I never have to make adjustments because I’m the only person driving it. I thanked my parents multiple times, and, for weeks, I thought to myself, “I’m looking at my car with my own eyes, and I still can’t believe it.”
Dwarfism has also affected my attempts to find a job. I’ve applied, and even had some interviews, but unfortunately was turned down quite a few times. Getting a first job can be difficult for anyone, but I think it’s especially hard for dwarfs. I say that because, since we are of short stature, there is only so much we can do on our own without the help of a stepstool or other adaptations — and too many employers don’t want to take a chance on someone who has to do things differently. Fortunately, I was recently offered a job at a supermarket not far from where we live. My family couldn’t have been more excited or thrilled for me.
Back in the early 2000s, when I found out that my dad was going to write a book about dwarfism and about me, I was excited and honored, as any fifth-grade girl probably would be. That changed after the book came out and I was asked to be interviewed at school by a television news station. I was very nervous, especially after I found out that they wanted to follow me around during school hours. I felt different enough from my classmates, and the last thing I wanted was a pair of reporters coming to my classroom and worrying about how my classmates would react. Fortunately, the reporters were understanding and agreed to interview me after school hours, but while I was still in the classroom, doing schoolwork.
As an adult, I still feel honored that my dad has written this book. After reading it for the first time in years, I also feel elated and blessed just to be alive after learning about the medical problems I struggled with during the first three years of my life, none of which I remember. It also kind of scared me. My health is good today, and I can’t imagine the hard times we went through.
My dad’s book also makes me feel proud of both myself and my dad. This book means the world to me because it teaches people of all sizes what it means to be a dwarf and how, in a way, dwarfs are just like everyone else — only shorter.