For a child attending school for the first time, being even a little different can be difficult, but for tiny Charlotte Garside, difference is a fact of life. The five-year-old British girl has a condition called primordial dwarfism, and is no bigger than a newborn baby, yet she has defied medical expectations by attending public school for the first time last week with her regular sized peers.
The Garsides live in the small British town of Withernsea, East Yorkshire, and her parents say Charlotte approaches life with a bold curiosity that often surprises people.
When the little girl was born, she weighed less than two pounds and her head was as big as a golf ball. According to the Daily Mail, her mom carried her around in the front pocket of her hoodie and dressed her in diapers the size of a credit card.
"She is very inquisitive and the school has already told us she has a learning age of a three-year-old, which is higher than we thought," says her mom, Emma Newman, who also has three other daughters aged 8, 12 and 15.
Garside's form of primordial dwarfism is so rare that doctors don't have a name for it. Primordial dwarfism itself is extremely rare — it affects an estimated 100 people around the world. Those with the condition have regularly proportioned bones and organs, but are extremely small and will never grow to more than 30 pounds. They're also at an increased risk of dying from an anyurism, and most will not live beyond their teens.
In addition to her size, Charlotte's condition also means she has immune system problems and cysts on her liver.
"Of course I was worried she could get hurt by the other children, but she has her own tutor look after her and she's not as fragile as you'd think," says Newman.
Her sister Chloe says of Charlotte, "When people first meet her they are afraid she might break if they touch her - but she's quite scrappy and doesn't sit still for a second."
Be that as it may, integrating at school can be rough, without the added pressure of not looking like everyone else.
"Being different is always a challenge, but hiding away from the world is not the answer," says Canadian parenting expert Kathy Lynn.
"I would first want to make sure that the child is comfortable answering questions about her situation," adds Lynn, who believes it is important to properly prepare the child for the first day.
She recommends helping the child to be honest and clear with her classmates.
"Show her how to stay calm, invite questions, answer matter-of-factly and be herself," says Arnall. "Children will soon discover that she is a regular kid."
Arnall says that kids with dramatic physical differences should "expect respect, although they might not always get it."
Buddying her up with some friends is also important. "All children need is one good friend," says Arnall.
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In Canada, the story of Ontarian primordial dwarf Kenadie Jourdin drew media attention last March as she reached the age of seven and attended regular school. Though she was only the size of an 18-month-old toddler, Kenadie attended regular grade two classes, and her mom says the kids accepted the tiny student once they were used to her appearance.
Primordialdwarfism.com, a parental support group, offers tips for parents of primordial dwarf children who are attending public school for the first time. The site recommends getting to know the child's teacher and checking in with them at least once a week to make sure things are going smoothly. They also recommend that before each school year, parents should visit and examine the school itself and request modifications as needed, as primordial dwarf children will likely need special items like smaller desks and chairs.
"There are a lot of unknowns," Charlotte's mom tells the Mail of her daughter's public school experience, "but Charlotte has a way of surprising you when you least expect it."
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