No one noticed until she was 13. Before then, Taylor Merritt was an average teen with a loving family, growing up in Charlestown, Rhode Island. However, as her friends grew taller, Merritt had reached a permanent height of four feet and two inches.
Merritt, a 20-year-old junior, was diagnosed with Achondroplasia Dwarfism when she was only six-months-old. Her parents and doctors were clueless before she was delivered that she would have this disability. “Everyone was overjoyed with the birth and then the nurses came up to my mom and said, ‘There is something wrong with your daughter, but we don’t know exactly what it is.’ With all the hormones, she started crying, but then another nurse told her, ‘She’s fine, she’s healthy, but there’s just something wrong with her bone structure and we aren’t sure what it is yet,’” Merritt said.
Robert and Tracy Merritt, who are both average height, were only concerned about her health by the time Merritt was diagnosed. She recalls her parents telling her they were okay when a specialist doctor explained Merritt would be shorter, but still able to do everything a person of average height can do, but with accommodations.
Little People of America (LPA) defines dwarfism as, “a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4’10” or shorter, among both men and women, although in some cases a person with a dwarfing condition may be slightly taller than that. The average height of an adult with dwarfism is 4’0, but typical heights range from 2’8 to 4’8.” Merritt said dwarfism isn’t hereditary and is caused by DNA chromosomes. She has a brother, Corey, who is two years younger than her and is average height.
Before Keene State, Merritt attended Chariho High School in Charlestown, Rhode Island. “The first few months of ninth grade were tough for me, but I had a really strong friend group back then and people would always tell me, ‘You are a part of the popular crowd,’ so everyone just kind of knew me after those first few months and got over me being short. I never had any negative experiences, like bullying during middle and high school. My schools were very accommodating since I was a kid. They would take me aside and ask if I needed any extra accommodations. I would go in the summertime and just check things, like if everything in the bathroom was okay,” Merritt said.
Merritt has had several jobs, just like any average height person. She has been a cashier at Stop and Shop, the manager for both her high school’s volleyball and wrestling teams, a manager of the beach convenience store called Dusty’s in Rhode Island and at Keene State, she works at the Child Development Center, as a Phonathon Representative and as a Orientation Cluster Leader. She said all of her jobs have been very supportive and understanding. To get to those jobs, Merritt zips around in her black Honda civic, equipped with her pedal extenders making it possible for her to drive and get where she needs to go.
Merritt’s supervisor at KSC’s Child Development Center, Beth Mucci said Merritt is, “professional, responsible, kind, respectful, punctual and a good communicator.”
Mucci said when Taylor first started, an older toddler asked her if she was a child. “Taylor didn’t hesitate at the question and said, ‘No, I am an adult and a teacher.’ I also said to the child, ‘This is my friend Taylor.’ Since then, no one has asked anything more; they all see her as one of their teachers.”
Mucci continued, “I was worried how Taylor would react to this and I had a chance to talk with her later that day and she was very understanding of the fact that children try to make sense of their world and that they have limited knowledge. She was not defensive or upset.”
While gaining work experience, college was always Merritt’s plan after high school graduation. When deciding schools, she said Keene State was her best pick because of the comprehensive disability services offered by KSC’s Aspire Program. Once Merritt was accepted, Keene State offered her early class selection, residence hall accommodations and just about anything she needed while attending the college.
While experiencing kindness from her high school colleagues, Merritt encountered other reactions at Keene State. Merritt said when she first came to Keene, people would write anonymous negative comments about her on Yik Yak, trying to be funny.
Merritt was on the 2016 Orientation Staff at Keene State. During August orientation, there was a hypnotist for late night entertainment for new students. As an Orientation Leader, Merritt attended the show. The hypnotist kept joking and using the word ‘midget.’ He kept repeating it, to the point where Merritt left the Mabel Brown Room. Later, he approached her and tried to apologize, but it was too late. The damage was already done.
LPA defines midget as, “a term used for a proportionate dwarf. However, the term has fallen into disfavor and is considered offensive by most people of short stature. The term dates back to 1865, the height of the ‘freak show’ era, and was generally applied only to short-statured persons who were displayed for public amusement, which is why it is considered so unacceptable today.”
“It sucks going to big events and always having to be cautious and prepared if something like that happens,” said Merritt. “If an insult isn’t something I think I should confront, I just try and brush it off. It’s just one of those things; it has become my everyday life. I have to just let it go. When people really take it too far, like taking pictures or are really doing something ignorant, [that] is when I get defensive.”
Aside from a few negative experiences while at college, Merritt said when she arrived her first year, her suitemates were, “awesome.” She said they made her feel just like another person and they didn’t even think about the fact that she has dwarfism. With a grin on her face, she said how her friends get really defensive of her sometimes, even more defensive than she does herself.
Majoring in elementary education and communications, Merritt has dreams of being a first or second grade teacher and not letting her height interfere. “I will always have to prove myself [in the classroom] more than the average person. I guess I always look at myself as having a little bit on me. I’m diverse and schools look for diverse in their education, but I do have people ask me, ‘How do you plan to handle kids that are taller than you?’ I just think I’ll have to make a strong foundation right on that first day. I’m different, but I’m still your peer and you have to respect me just as much as you respect the other guy,” Merritt said.
As Merritt has gotten older, she said offensive things she experiences have become more common and frequent. People began to notice her dwarfism when she started to also look older. “I have to stick up for myself. I have been able to handle and take it more. I’m definitely able to confront people more now than I use to,” Merritt said.
Merritt has been going on a trip called Little People of America [LPA] for all her life. “Honestly, it’s the one week of the year that I feel completely normal,” Merritt said. The organization has annual conferences every year and it’s a week long in all cities across the United States. They do East Coast, Central and West Coast so everyone can go. Merritt said, “It’s a week that thousands and thousands of little people can be together, share experiences and just kind of hang out to meet people. We play sports so we’re all equal in that way. There are 12 districts; people kind of compare it to the Hunger Games and New England is district one.”
Some of Merritt’s closest friends are the ones she has met at LPA. “My best friend, who will be my maid of honor in my wedding, I met at LPA. She lives in Texas. The toughest part is that my best friend lives so far, but I have been able to go and travel to see my friends all over. I don’t love them more than my average height friends, but they do understand me at a different level. I call to tell them something happened and they are able to actually understand and respond because they have gone through maybe a similar situation,” Merritt said.
When it comes to clothing, “Taylor has a tailor,” as Merritt giggles explaining. Her tailor is in Rhode Island and Merritt brings clothes she wants to her and she hems them for her. Merritt shops wherever she wants. When she was younger, her mother would hem everything, but for the most part, Merritt only hems her pants and leggings now.
There are several television shows out based around little people. Merritt thinks “Little People Big World” isn’t a bad show. “It’s a reality show about their lives, and all the shows on TLC I have no problem with. When I was little, the show on TLC would make me realize what I was capable of having one day. I’ve always admired those shows. The Little Couple, I think, is adorable,” Merritt said.
Shows such as “Little Women Atlanta” or “Little Women New York” are the ones Merritt is not a big fan of. Those shows are unrealistic and are like the “Housewives of Orange County,” according to Merritt. “People always think I watch all those shows and I really don’t,” Merritt said.
Along with becoming a teacher, another one of Merritt’s life long goals is to have her own big family. “I always joke to my friends that I only want little people children because if I have an average height child, they’re going to be taller than me by the age of five,” Merritt said.
If Merritt were to marry and have children with an average height person, it would be a 50/50 chance of the child being little, she said. Merritt continued explaining if she were to marry another little person with the exact same dwarfism she has, it would be 50 percent chance they would have a child with their dwarfism, 25 percent chance the child would be average height and 25 percent chance it would be double dominance, which means it would carry both their genes of the dwarfism and most likely die right after or shortly after birth.
Merritt’s close friend and roommate Mary D’Orvilliers said she didn’t have any reaction to Merritt being little when she first met her. “I have never seen Taylor as a little person. Although Taylor is the first little person I have ever met, I do not see her in that category. To me, she has always just been Taylor,” D’Orvilliers said.
D’Orvilliers and Merritt became friends through mutual friends last year. D’Orvilliers considers Merritt one of her best friends and she knows she can always turn to Merritt for advice.
“Taylor is very supportive. She always puts others before herself. I have personally experienced that if one of Taylor’s friends is having a bad day, she will go out of her way and surprise them with coffee or their favorite candy to try to cheer them up. Additionally, Taylor is a very hard worker. Taylor has many admirable qualities that make her someone I am lucky to consider as my friend,” D’Orvilliers said.
D’Orvilliers said Merritt doesn’t let anything stand in her way of anything she wants to do. D’Orvilliers is aware that Merritt faces challenges every day that would probably never cross an average height person’s mind, but they don’t let her stop her from achieving her goals.
Mucci said, “I am very inspired by Taylor. The thing that most amazes me is that even though I know she has physical challenges in life, she does not ever focus on these.”
D’Orvilliers said, “she always tries to do something on her own before reaching out and asking for help, which shows her strength and independence. Being friends with Taylor has created an environment in our friend group where if we are in public and see another little person, we wouldn’t stare. To us, Taylor’s height is not a surprising trait as it may be to others.”
Merritt would say her life is different than the average person because of her dwarfism. She finds herself always having to take extra steps to do everything. In her own home, she is unable to reach the cupboards without going to grab her stool and climbing up. There’s extra things she has to think ahead about, such as renting a car. She would have to bring her pedal extenders.
Merritt considers herself independent. Merritt said, “I hate relying on others for help. If I go to the grocery store by myself and let’s say there’s something on the top self I need and there’s no one around to come and get it, I will usually leave without it. I would really rather go without.”
Merritt has always had to reach higher to achieve her goals, literally. Without the smile ever leaving her face, Merritt said, “I always have to adjust to my surroundings. People say, ‘Life doesn’t come down to us, we have to go up to it.’”
Emma Hamilton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org