What Are The Effects of Achondroplasia?

Zach and Tori Roloff, stars of TLC reality series Little People Big World, introduced fans to their baby boy, Jackson, in an exclusive People magazine interview this week. In addition to talking about how the couple is adjusting to sleep deprivation and breastfeeding, the new parents revealed that their son was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. Because dad Zach also has the condition, the family already has considerable experience dealing with the effects of achondroplasia — and, lucky for little Jackson, they’ve also shown that world that the diagnosis doesn’t have to limit a child’s chances for success and happiness.

According to the NIH Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, achondroplasia is a rare disorder affecting anywhere from one in 15,000 to 40,000 newborn births worldwide. Statistics published by the Little People of America put the rate of occurrence even lower at approximately one per 26,000 to 40,000 births.

Even with those low figures, achondroplasia is considered the most common form of dwarfism, according to the March of Dimes. And around 80 percent of babies with condition are born to parents who don’t have it, meaning the condition isn’t strictly inherited. Still, there’s a genetic connection. During infancy, cartilage typically hardens to become bone in most of the body. But for babies with achondroplasia, a variation of the FGFR3 gene means that cartilage in the arms and legs doesn’t turn to bone as it should.

According to a separate People magazine report, Jackson Roloff was born weighing just over 9 pounds and measuring 20.5 inches, which seems average for a newborn. Still, doctors were able to confirm Jackson’s diagnosis during a 34-week ultrasound, People reported. Among the common physical traits of babies born with achondroplasia are short height, shortened limbs, and weak muscle tone, according to the March of Dimes. In addition to possible delays in meeting certain developmental milestones like sitting and walking, babies with this form of dwarfism often face health challenges including sleep apnea, spinal cord compression, fluid buildup in the brain, and repeat ear infections.

In an online FAQ on the condition, Little People of America pointed out that while many people face medical interventions and treatment to manage their developmental and physical differences, the prognosis of someone living with achondroplasia varies widely.

The majority of (little people) enjoy normal intelligence, normal life spans, and reasonably good health.

The Roloffs have been quite clear that while their son may face challenges that other kids don’t, they plan on giving him every tool for success. In his People interview, Zach Roloff said that his son's condition would mean parenting the baby in much the same way his parents did for him.

You have to encourage a dwarf child a little more because it will take them five steps to do what others can do in two.I knew, dwarf or not, I was going to parent my child with the mentality that not everyone gets a trophy. You have to earn it. [...] I want people to know that he’s just like his dad: being a dwarf is just part of the whole package of who he is.

That’s the kind of message that every child should hear, to be honest.