The Wheeler family — Ashlee and Tommy, and sons Nathaniel, 11, and Hunter, 4 — will attend the regional Little People of America conference Oct. 25-27 in Findlay. The conference is expected to draw about 200 participants, some who are coming from well outside the five-state area. (Photo provided)

By BRENNA GRITEMAN
LIFE EDITOR

In July 2009, the word “midget” was declared inappropriate and offensive. Little People of America has registered a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over use of the word.

Preferable terms are “having dwarfism,” “short stature” and “little person” (or LP). Or, simply call the person by their name.

“We always say, ‘just say hi,'” says Patty Klein, lead organizer of the regional LPA conference being held Oct. 25-27 in Findlay. Her son Jacob graduated from Findlay High School last year and has dwarfism, and she says attending LPA events and making personal contacts is priceless for LP youth and adults, as well as parents of little people.

Online groups work great for answering medical questions, offering parenting advice and linking youth with dwarfism, but Klein and her family have learned there is no substitute for face to face support. Jacob, now a freshman at Bowling Green State University, has friends from LPA conferences that he’s known for much of his life and Patty, too, has found solid support and friendship through her involvement with the agency.

“Get involved. Stay involved. And keep going,” Klein advises families of regional and national LPA events. “It takes time to build those relationships, and you can’t put a price on that kind of support. These kids call each other family.”

The five-state LPA gathering, being held at Hilton Garden Inn, happens to begin on International Dwarfism Awareness Day (with October observed as National Dwarfism Awareness Month). The conference will begin with a Friday evening celebration for the approximately 200 people expected to attend.

Saturday will include separate parents’ and teen meetings, with University of Findlay occupational therapy students operating a child care room throughout the morning.

Doctors from the skeletal dysplasia team at Akron Children’s Hospital will operate an on-site clinic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and a sewing/alterations demonstration begins at 2 p.m.

Informal sports for all ages, including soccer, flag football and cornhole, will be offered from 1-4 p.m. Klein says this is an especially valuable opportunity for attendees, as they rarely have the chance to compete against other people their own size.

That night, teens and youth will trick-or-treat throughout the hotel, with dinner and a dance rounding out the day.

Ashlee Wheeler and her family from Pittsville, Ohio, will be attending the conference, marking their very first LPA event. Her 11-year-old son, Nathaniel, has dwarfism, as does her husband, Tommy. She and their other child, 4-year-old Hunter, are average size.

Wheeler says the family just got their LPA membership a few weeks ago, as Nathaniel has reached “that age that he’s starting to doubt himself.” She adds that membership was important to her as a parent, though it does have some specific perks for her son: “I think most of all, he’s just really excited to get a chance to play sports.”

Wheeler says her husband is a confident man and never sought out the support of LPA, despite his grandmother’s urging throughout his youth. But she wants Nathaniel to make friends that he can relate to on a more personal level, and for them both to gain a new perspective.

“I’m just really excited for him to see the world in his view,” she says. “Like I told him, ‘I’m going to be the one who’s different here.'”

Marge Carlisle, an LP from Flint, Michigan, has been a member of LPA since she was 13 years old and formerly served on the LPA national conference. Now 64, she says “coming and being with a group of LP’s … is important at different ages and stages of life.”

Average-size parents with a baby with dwarfism, for instance, will experience a variety of emotions, including grief and the feeling of “what next?” Carlisle says. As the child grows, they’ll have new types of questions, especially in relation to school issues.

She adds that involvement is also important to young children — “they’re now running around with kids their own size” — and adolescents, who gain confidence in seeing older kids like them doing normal things like driving and going to college. It is equally important for average-size parents to see adult LP’s with jobs, spouses, etc., she says.

And, of course, young adults and older people use LPA gatherings as a chance to make romantic connections.

“They’re coming to find a spouse,” Carlisle says, “because the dating world can be cruel to people with a disability.” While she says this is getting easier, more effort is needed to change the perception of little people in society.

Carlisle herself has friends she has grown up with from LPA meetings, and is excited to see one in particular during the upcoming conference: a friend Carlisle met at age 13 at a Baltimore conference, who will be flying from Boston to Detroit and riding to Findlay with her.

For more information about this and other area gatherings, email Klein at Patonly@yahoo.com. Contact the Little People of America National office at 888-LPA-2001 for membership information.

brennagriteman@thecourier.com
Twitter: @BrennaGriteman

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