Aulden Love was told he's like any other boy — he just has to try a little harder.
This summer, he competed in the Dwarf Athletic Association of America 26th National Games in Dallas.
He and his father put together a team called “Atomic,” which played basketball, soccer and two-touch football. The team got second place in basketball and two-touch football and third place in soccer. He plans to compete in his first World Dwarf Games next year in Michigan.
Little People of America describe Aulden's dwarfism as a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4 feet 10 or shorter.
There are more than 200 distinct types of dwarfism, and more than 80 percent of dwarfs have average-height parents, siblings and children, according to Little People of America. An information card from the association also states that it's rare for dwarfs to have any kind of mental impairment, and preferred terminology is “short stature,” “having dwarfism,” “little person” or “dwarf.” The term “midget” can be perceived by some as rude or slang, the card reads.
East Texas dwarfs, such as Aulden, said they want people to know they're like everyone else, only smaller. With changing technology and shows such as “Little People, Big World,” people are also more aware of the condition and can easily look up information on the Internet, they said.
During her pregnancy with Aulden, a doctor in town did several ultrasounds and expressed concern over a few measurements, Mrs. Love said.
Then when he was born, his pediatrician noticed that the circumference of his head and length of bones were not adding up to what an average person would be.
Aulden was tentatively diagnosed in the hospital with achondroplasia and was then sent to a specialist.
At the time, statistics indicated that 80 percent of cases where children are born with achondroplasia go undiagnosed until age 1 or 2, so it was impressive that he was tentatively diagnosed that early, Mrs. Love said.
Once the condition was confirmed, she said, she and her husband were scared because dwarfism does not run in their family.
She said it was also overwhelming at first because of the possible health issues associated with achondroplasia. However, Aulden has only had one set of tubes put in ears and one surgery this year on the outside of his legs to correct bowing.
After his parents realized he was going to be healthy and hitting all the milestones of average child does, they weren't as concerned.
His parents also eventually got in touch with Little People of America and began meeting parents and adults with achondroplasia who were perfectly happy and successful.
“Now he's just Aulden,” Mrs. Love said.
Last month, his bike, which folds down and can fit into a suitcase, was at a Longview bike shop.
“He's getting new handlebars. He wants race handlebars with grips,” his mother said. “We lived at Lake Cherokee five years, and he would ride roads with his dad there.”
She said her family tries not to adapt too much for Aulden in the house because he has to learn to adapt outside in everyday life.
But there are plenty of stools around the house, both upstairs and downstairs.
There are also automatic light switches upstairs, dishes in the kitchen are in low places, and things Aulden needs access to, such as milk and orange juice, are kept low in the refrigerator.
At school, Mrs. Love said Henderson ISD has been fantastic working with Aulden, who will be in sixth grade next year at Henderson Middle School.
Now, he feels “like one of the kids.”
He ran for class representative as a fifth-grader, which required giving a speech, and ended up winning. Being in that role, he had to be a door greeter.
He also did a talent show in fourth grade, where he lip-synced and danced. He had to try out for the show, and only one person in his class could make it. He performed in front of about 300 people.
Next year, he plans to be in the band and play trumpet.
Besides school, he enjoys going to baseball games and hanging out with his friends.
His best friend, Drew, is one of the tallest in his class.
“He helps him with his tray in the service line in lunch,” Mrs. Love said. “Drew just does it. He's not in our family but just does it.”
In the fall, Aulden watches college football and knows about statistics and details, such as uniform changes. He'll even get up early to watch College GameDay, and his favorite college team is the University of Oregon Ducks.
He said he doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up but is already making good grades.
When asked what made Aulden strive for his goals, his mother said, “We've always been honest with him that things are going to be harder, and so he has to try that much harder. We've been honest with him on what he's not able to do, but that anything else is certainly possible. He just makes up his mind that he's going to try harder.”
“They're very good to him here. We don't dwell on it,” she said.
Neither do his friends.
Jennifer Galyean, the mother of Aulden's best friend, Drew, described him as a fun kid who's vivacious and funny.
“He's just a good friend to Drew,” she said.
Ms. Galyean said she did not have a perception or preconceived notion about dwarfs when she met Aulden, but as a mom has sympathy for certain little things he's dealt with.
For the most part, her family never thought anything about his condition, she said.
“He's just our friend whether he's big or small,” she said. “I didn't go into it with any preconceived notions. That's just who he is. To us it's Aulden.”
In the time that she's known Aulden, she's never been in a position where people have asked about him. However, she said her 4-year-old sometimes thinks Aulden should play with him instead of Drew.
“Little kids seem to be the ones to ask questions,” she said. “I think that when they were younger, there was a little confrontation at a ballpark … but Drew was quick to come to his defense.”
Ms. Galyean added, “He's just like you or me. He's just small. He's just a typical 11-year- old boy. He likes to play outside, likes to swim. He just happens to be smaller. He's just Drew's friend. He's our friend too. When we think of him, we don't think about that. … We just all think of him as a friend.”
Drew echoed his mother, saying he and Aulden usually play football together, and he's always thought of Aulden as a normal person.
He said the main thing people should know is that size isn't a big issue.
“I'm one of the tallest (in class), and size doesn't matter,” he said.
Kim Doerge's 14-year-old son Drew also has grown up with Aulden and is like a big brother to him. He recently flew to Maine to join Aulden's family on their vacation.
She said the two do all the same stuff a lot of boys do, including sports.
But one of their biggest pasttimes, she said, is fishing.
“Drew's just a good friend to him and watches out for him. He's always there if a need arises,” Ms. Doerge said.
If someone asks questions or brings up an issue, she said her son will say, “This is Aulden. He's just the same as me and you.”
Since being around Aulden, she said she is more aware of dwarfism, and the community atmosphere has been positive.
When asked about Aulden and his determination, she mentioned his personality and wittiness.
“You automatically love him …,” Ms. Doerge said. “Drew would do anything for him. He would never let anyone hurt him or hurt his feelings. They just have a special bond. They go on trips together. They go camping and do a lot of hiking. We just don't see him as any different. There will be times we forget (that) he can't reach (something).”
Laura Turner, a 39-year-old with achondroplasia, had an experience similar to Aulden's.
She said she grew up with two siblings, and her family always treated her like one of the kids. All three were encouraged to succeed.
“There were a few instances, but the friends I was with would bond together and ignore,” Ms. Turner said. “I'm a little tougher emotionally (now). When people outside our circle stare, it doesn't bother me nearly as much as it did when I was younger.”
Later on, when she got into college, her dwarfism wasn't a big deal at all, she said.
Ms. Turner, who stands at 4 feet tall, believes a lot of her upbringing and outlook on life was instilled by her parents, who encouraged her.
“Especially in sports, we have to work harder, but academically we're all in the same playing field,” she said.
Now, she is doing the same thing with her boy, Reese, who has achondroplasia and turns 11 this month.
Reese's dad was average size, but since she has the condition, she knew there was a possibility her son would as well. He has step stools in his bathroom, and his dresser is not tall.
“I tell him we were made differently. He's not growing to grow real tall and maybe not grow up and be a (professional) sportsman, but he's going to have his own strengths,” she said.
“He loves to play baseball and did soccer for awhile. He (also) does things like Boy Scouts.”
When asked what people should know about the condition, she said it's something people are born with and “something that is a part of life.”
Her son, who stands about 36 inches tall, said he enjoys school and wants to be a basketball player or fireman when he grows up.
When people confront him about his condition, he simply says, “That's how God made me.”