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Little People

Persons of short stature have occupied a special place in American culture, but little people have been both celebrated and discriminated against. Dwarfism is technically defined as a medical condition that results in an adult height of four-feet-ten or shorter. Although there are several hundred different types of dwarfism, the most common is achondroplasia, a genetic condition resulting in disproportionately short arms and legs, prominent forehead and jaws, and an average adult height of four feet.

Other types of dwarfism result in proportionally small limbs. Such persons are sometimes referred to as midgets, but since that term is associated with circus freak shows of the 1800s, “midget” is widely seen as offensive. Although dwarfism can result in some medical problems such as spinal stenosis, where the spinal column is too narrow to accommodate the spinal cord, many little people lead healthy, productive lives. A more common problem involves inaccessibility in public spaces. ATM machines, for example, are typically beyond the reach of persons under five feet tall.

Because most forms of dwarfism are genetic, it’s possible for a short-statured couple to have an averaged-sized child. There is a twenty-five percent chance that each parent will contribute an average-sized gene and have an average-sized child. But there is a fifty percent chance that the child will inherit one averaged-sized gene and one dwarf gene, resulting in a short-statured child. Inheriting two dwarf genes results in double dominant syndrome, a condition inevitably causing death.

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