Health

Life as a teenager growing up with dwarfism

What is it like to leave home when you have restrictive growth disorder and live in a world geared towards people much taller than you?

"We can't just walk down the street and not be laughed at, or pointed at or pointed out.

"It's like walking out in a ridiculous costume and everyone looking at you."

Standing at just under 4ft tall (121cm), 17-year-old Jasmine Burkitt (who is known as Jazz) has a rare form of dwarfism, or restricted growth disorder.

Image caption Jazz is 3ft 11in (119cm) tall but says she lives life with "no limits"

Dwarfism is the term is commonly used to describe people with a final adult height of 4ft 10in (147cm) or less.

There are estimated to be several hundred conditions that can cause restricted growth - these can cause proportionate or disproportionate restricted growth.

Jazz, who inherited the condition from her mother, was bullied at school for her size and has to adapt how she lives day-to-day to cope with the bigger world around her.

"I was badly bullied about my size at school so I had to leave when I was 13.

"A boy picked me up and then he just dropped me again, but I landed on my knees and that really did damage my knees quite badly."

Jazz's mother decided to home-school her instead, which Jazz says has also given her the opportunity to cook, clean and learn to get by with her condition.

Last year Jazz followed her passion for animals and left home for the first time to go and study animal welfare at Llysfasi College in Ruthin, Denbighshire.

"I was worried being at college would be like being back at school where I was bullied.

"But here, no-one sees me as any different. I'm just Jazz," she says.

She has a specially-adapted room at the college, with a lowered shower and step ladders so that she can reach shelves.

"Being small hasn't held me back at all and the staff have done loads to make sure I fit in.

"We have to wear a lab coat. Everyone was picking small, medium and large lab coats and I was like - there's no way I'm going to fit in even the small one.

"So the college had the company measure one perfectly, and it looks like any other ones but for me. And I'm not joking, I almost cried."

Her decision to leave home was tough, as she is her mother's registered carer, and their shared understanding of their condition means they are very close.

But she does not regret her decision to leave. "I wanted my own little bit of independence... and I love it."

Jazz's father was addicted to drugs, and her mother cut off contact with him when she was born.

Image caption Jazz found it hard leaving her mother when she moved out

Jazz decided to get in touch with her father and met him for the first time.

"I wanted to find out what makes me, me," says Jazz.

He has now become a part of her life, and both share a love of animals and a similar sense of humour.

"It has been really difficult... and harder emotionally than I thought it would be.

"I feel everything's whole now, I'm not missing anything."

Jazz has never wanted to find out which specific form of restrictive growth she has.

Her mother endured painful and extensive tests as a child, including skin grafts, carried out by doctors trying to research her condition and find how to cure it.

"We're pretty unique in that way," says Jazz.

"We don't want people knowing what it is, and then getting the scientists to remove it, and stop (people) having children like this."

There are a number of restrictive growth disorder treatments including growth hormone injections and surgery to lengthen short arms and legs.

But Jazz says she has never considered altering her natural height.

"I was born with this condition - I learnt to walk with this condition, I learnt to do everything with this condition.

"It's not something I separate from me, it's very much a part of my life. And I embrace that and I would never change myself.

"It's because of my condition that I don't want to have any limits."

Small Teen Bigger World can be seen on BBC Three at 2100 BST, Monday 11 July 2011, and is the first in a four-part series, or catch up afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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