The real life seven dwarfs: Meet the Johnstons – the largest family of achondroplasia dwarfs in the world

To the outside world, they may look different from everyone else. But for the Johnston family, the only difference between them and everyone else is that they are a little smaller.

Amber and Trent Johnson, from Barnesville, Georgia, and their five children are the largest family of achondroplasia dwarfs, with a type of dwarfism that affects the extremities. They call themselves ‘the real life seven dwarfs’ and embrace their size, and say they ‘strive to raise their children in the world that’s not built for them’.

Speaking to Barbara Walters for tonight’s ABC’s 20/20, the Johnstons explain why they go to extremes to try to keep things normal for their five children. Instead of adapting their home to fit the family, who are no more than four feet tall, they instead encourage their children to overcome the hurdles – for example, placing step stools to help them reach cupboards and attaching sticks to light switches.

Trent and Amber met at a little people’s convention, dated for almost four years and married. Five months later Amber was pregnant. Trent came from a family of dwarfs, but Amber’s family were full size. They knew there was a possibility that their first child could be full size, but at 31 weeks discovered Jonah also had achondroplasia dwarfism.

They were very happy as they wanted kids who were ‘like them’, they said. The birth of their second biological child Elizabeth was very traumatic for Amber – at one point she was only 48 inches tall but measured 51 inches around.

They both wanted a big family, but instead of putting Amber at any more risk with another traumatic pregnancy they decided to adopt to extend their brood of dwarfs. Dwarfs are often put up for adoption and are also treated badly in other countries because of their difference.

Amber and Trent decided to adopt three children from different parts of the world – Ana from Siberia, Alex from South Korea and Emma from China. They told ABC their friends joke they are the ‘Brad and Angelina of Little People’, because of the way they embrace the culture of their children.

The Johnstons did not take out any loans to adopt, nor do they receive any government hand outs to help raise their children – despite the fact they are considered to have a disability. Instead, they relied on various grants to make it work financially.

Trent said: ‘We live within our means. We try to do everything ourselves.’

Amber added: ‘I do believe there are little people that are truly disabled. But our family is not.’

Amber is a stay-at-home mom and is hands on with school activities like the Parent-Teacher Association and Girl Scouts. Trent crafts pedal extensions for cars to help dwarfs drive. His main job is as the grounds supervisor at a local college.

Though people stare at them, the Johnstons try to ignore it and carry on with their lives. Amber said some people even stop and take photographs of them in the street. For the children, it is more difficult because they get bullied at school.

When Elizabeth was in third grade, bullies called her a midget. She simply told them: ‘That’s how God made me – that’s how he loves me.’

Achondroplasia is a form of short-limbed dwarfism. The word achondroplasia literally means ‘without cartilage formation’. However, the problem is not in forming cartilage but in converting it to bone, particularly in the long bones of the arms and legs.

All people with achondroplasia have short stature. The average height of an adult male with achondroplasia is four feet, four inches, and the average height for adult females is four feet, one inch.

Characteristic features of achondroplasia include an average-size trunk, short arms and legs with particularly short upper arms and thighs, limited range of motion at the elbows, and an enlarged head with a prominent forehead. Fingers are typically short and the ring finger and middle finger may diverge, giving the hand a three-pronged (trident) appearance. People with achondroplasia are generally of normal intelligence.

Health problems commonly associated with achondroplasia include episodes in which breathing slows or stops for short periods (apnea), obesity, and recurrent ear infections.


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