Babies and young children

Seeking Help

As soon as possible after the birth, the parents need the opportunity to learn all they can about their child and about restricted growth and its implications.

Take one step at a time. Consult family doctors, paediatricians or social workers about restricted growth. Find out all you can about your child and about restricted growth and its implications and the organisations that can help. Be assertive, the information you seek though available may not be forthcoming unless it is asked for. Investigate playgroups; inquire about neighbourhood baby sitters. Your child will have the same needs as any other child. It is wise to look for people and groups who do not treat him or her as special.

During these early stages it is not only important to be certain of an accurate diagnosis ensuring the best medical treatment and avoiding unnecessary distress; it is also very helpful to make contact with other parents who have been through a similar experience. Short Statured People of Australia (SSPA) and similar organisations in Australia and other countries can make that possible. Through social activities, such organisations also enable parents to meet a wide variety of children and adults of restricted growth. Many fears about the future are allayed by this sort of encounter, while practical advice can be exchanged. Brothers, sisters, grandparents and other relatives also benefit, for they too may have difficulty adjusting to a new and unexpectedly different member of the family. They all need to be shown by example that a child of restricted growth, given sympathetic support and certain necessary practical assistance, can develop normally into an independent and enterprising adult.

Official Help

Various forms of practical and financial aids such as grants for home aid may be available to children of restricted growth from national and local sources. In Australia, the Commonwealth Government’s Department of Health and Social Welfare can offer certain assistance to families with handicapped children and can help to explain what is available and whether a family is likely to be eligible.

Early Development

Depending on the child’s precise medical condition, early development may proceed at a slightly different pace from that deemed normal by popular books on baby care. This should not be cause for concern provided expert medical advice is available when needed. There is no reason to expect that the intelligence of a child of restricted growth should be other than within the average range, as again the example of others can show.

A child’s self-image starts to develop even before they become aware of themselves as a separate person. How parents respond to their child influences when and what they learn, and how they adapt to their environment. This learning, which starts with feeding and play, continues through the milestones of childhood and adolescence.

Be attuned to your child’s questions about him or herself. There is not one specific moment when your child will recognise that he or she is a dwarf. This recognition will be gradual and they are especially vulnerable when they become aware that they are different. Do not attempt to explain more than he or she is ready to hear, and whatever you say, say it lovingly and tenderly. More important than anything else will be your help in enabling your child to feel good about him or herself. Make sure you have given him or her a simple explanation before other people begin asking questions.

As parents you will be asked such questions as:

“Why am I small?” And “When will I grow?”

Some parents have found that these questions resolve themselves naturally and a child comes to realise that short stature is for life, without the need for lengthy explanation. Others have found these questions more persistent and have had to try to explain the situatrion. While explaining whatever details seem necessary, it is wise to stress that all people are different from each other, some short and some tall, but that we all have our place in the world and can all be happy and respected.

It is important that children of restricted growth should know from the outset that their families value them for their individual qualities and that their height is not significant. That security will help them to cope when people stare at them in the street or in shops, and when other children make cruel remarks. Some children enjoy the knowledge that they are well known in the community and gain special attention, which can be balanced against the stares and unwelcome comments.

In the end everyone wants to be well liked and acknowledged as worthy. Individuals with growth disorders learn at some time in childhood that they are different but hopefully also that they are valued nonetheless.

Independence

While helping children to deal with their early problems, parents may be tempted to be excessively protective, but that temptation should be resisted. Independence should be encouraged in children of restricted growth, for although they must often be helped to help themselves, they will not benefit if somebody else assists them with every daily task, either through sympathy or because of a desire to take the quickest and easiest course. Children who are small for their age may take advantage of this by getting their parents to do things for them that they are capable of doing themselves. Parents can allow this to happen because it can feel somehow more comfortable to have a dependant child than an argumentative youngster. Parents and children alike may try to blame unrelated problems on their short stature. A busy mother may find her patience tried to the limits while her offspring struggles to tie shoelaces or brush tangled hair but they benefit in the long term. Letting a child “go out in the cold”, may seem a bit hard but afterwards the child will probably know his limits better and may even discover unexpected potential. Such a child will grow in confidence and self-assurance.

Every child needs to develop their special skills, and involvement in clubs is a good testing ground. Integration in school, in group activities and in the community is an invaluable preparartion for an independent and well-adjusted life.

Simple gadgets, such as portable stools, steps and reaching devices, can enable a child with very short arms and legs to become independent in the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and elsewhere. Such objects and their home-made counterparts should become familiar aspects of family life. While climbing onto steps to reach the sink, or performing contortions in order to dress or wash themselves, children should receive encouragement. They should not be pitied or allowed to become the butt of family jokes because their behaviour seems a little unusual. Similarly, short stature should not be allowed to restrain children when playing. Within reason, parents must not yield to their fears but allow their tiny offspring to climb trees, play on swings and slides and so on. In this and all respects it is important to treat children of restricted growth according to their age and not their height.

Clothes

When growth is slower than normal, clothes may last longer than usual, and this can be distressing if children see friends and contemporaries with new and more fashionable clothes. Such distress can be avoided if children can be dressed according to their age and the current fashion, providing that it does not make them look ridiculous. Above all, they should not be treated differently from their brothers and sisters.

There are various ways of tackling the problem of obtaining suitable clothes for children of restricted growth. Parents who can make clothes themselves have an advantage, while a lot can be achieved by altering bought garments.

Trouser zips, for example, often pose a problem for mothers of young boys with short arms and short, stubby fingers. The problem can be overcome if the trousers have at least a partly elasticated waist and zip, and if the boy has a device to hook the zip and pull it up. Shoes may also prove hard to find, and the answer is usually just to search until the appropriate fitting is found.

Summary

  • Consider your child as an average person with a growth problem.
  • Treat your child according to age, not size.
  • Make certain that you get the professional help you need.
  • Remember that your child’s adjustment to life depends largely on your acceptance and understanding.
  • Be honest with your child, family and friends: A growth problem is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Relax, love and enjoy your child.

(Source: Information Guide to Persons of Short Stature, edited by Stephen Pinnell, pp. 6-8)

© 2014 SSPA.