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Ontario mother advocates for ‘little people’

The Tabone family. From left: Sophia and Mike with their four boys, Nicholas, Christian, Zachary (black hoodie), and Matthew.

Sophia Tabone is a mother of four “wonderful” boys. She and her husband, Mike, have lived in Bradford, Ontario, for eight years and she said the family moved to the town so their oldest son, Christian, could attend school with another child who shares a unique condition with him – dwarfism.

Christian Tabone is 10 years old and in Grade 5. He was born with a condition called achondroplasia, which is a type of dwarfism distinguished by disproportioned body parts such as limbs, reports CollingwoodToday.ca

Sophia was 27 when she was told that her first-born had a form of dwarfism.

“It was a shock, total shock,” said Sophia, adding there is no one in her family with dwarfism. “It’s luck of the draw.”

The condition is not hereditary and affects one in every 20,000 births. Approximately 80 per cent of children with the condition are born from two average size parents, according to the Little People of Ontario charitable organization.

Sophia explained raising her three average-size boys compared to raising Christian is very different; Christian has many more medical issues and challenges in his daily life.

“Dressing himself was a struggle, toileting… the world is made average, so for him, every time he steps outside the door, nothing is accessible,” she said. “He would struggle, so we teach him how to live and figure things out for himself… I don’t baby him [and] I’m a lot harder on him because when he goes out into the world, it’s not made for him so he needs to figure things out.”

When Christian is asked about his size, most often by other children at school or at a public park, he will say he is “smaller” or that he’s a “little person”, but Sophia said adults become “fascinated” by Christian.

“It’s mostly adults that are a problem,” she said, adding that sometimes adults will try to take a photo of her son without their consent. “The kids will ask ‘why are you the size of a baby?’ They don’t understand, but once you explain, they don’t care and move on. But adults are the ones that are totally uneducated.”

Sophia explained that numbers help, and with two “little people” at the local school, Christian and his friend are able to promote changes within the school to accommodate their size in relation to things like toilets, door handles, and heights of buttons to open/close doors.

Christian plays softball for the Bradford Storm and Sophia was influential in having the term ‘midget’ removed from the Bradford Minor Baseball Association’s division titles in 2019.

“The parents in the community have been great – especially the parents with Bradford Storm, they’re fantastic! We’ve never had an issue and it’s never been an issue,” she shared.

Sophia stated that many medical practitioners could not offer her much information about dwarfism when she first started learning about the condition.

So, she connected with a genetics doctor from Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, who then connected her to the Little People of Ontario Association.

Sophia helps raise money for the organization while continuing to advocate for Christian and those with dwarfism.

“They terrify you with all these crazy things like ‘he may never have a job or a family, he may never drive’,” she recalled about the medical practitioners. “You CAN drive, you may just need pedal extenders. You CAN have a job, you may just need a stool. You slowly start to see the light and realize, socially, he’s going to be OK.”

In 2017, Christian participated in the World Dwarf Games held in Guelph, Ontario. He was only six years old, but his mother made sure he was able to try all the sports available, including bocce ball, track, shot put, soccer, basketball, and ball hockey.

In 2019, Christian played baseball in the World Dwarf Games with Team Canada and won gold. He has also been awarded player of the game with the Bradford Ball Hockey League (Simcoe Division).

Next year, the family will be participating in World Dwarf Games again and will be selling Team Christian shirts to raise funds to send him to overseas for the Paralympics.

“I always explain to him: ‘You can do everything everyone else can do, just differently,’” she said.

Sophia submitted a request to the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury to have a proclamation drafted to officially recognize Oct. 25 as National Dwarfism Day. She says people were encouraged to wear the colour green that day.

She hopes to educate the public about dwarfism and how it affects those who live with the condition.

“There will always be those people who will take pictures and will ridicule or make the jokes, but I remind Christian that could happen if you’re 6 foot 9 – it’s unfortunate, but that’s the world we live in,” she lamented.

Christian has an MRI scheduled in December involving his spine. But Sophia is confident in Christian’s ability to bounce back and said he is looking forward to trying out the sport of curling this year.

“He’s just a regular 10-year-old kid,” she said. “He plays his video games with his friends and they tell him off just like any other kid.”

To learn more about dwarfism, visit the website.

For parents with children who have dwarfism, visit: https://dwarfathletics.ca/

“Throughout history, dwarfism was looked at as a form of amusement for people. To parents with new babies with dwarfism, it’s going to be OK… they are going to be OK and YOU are going to be OK! It takes time but everything will be OK,” stressed Sophia.

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