WEST FARGO, N.D. — When Christian and Dalen Lawler head off to kindergarten this week, some of their new classmates might be surprised that the boys are twins.

Dalen has dwarfism and Christian does not, illustrating a sharp difference in the physical appearances of the 5-year-old boys.

In fact, Dalen is the same height as his 1-½ year old brother, Leo.

But don’t underestimate him because of his small stature.

He had no trouble keeping up with his twin and older brother Noah, 9, while they batted around a beach ball and turned cartwheels in the yard recently.

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Inside a kindergarten classroom at Willow Park Elementary, Dalen will sit in a regular-sized desk. He’ll need few special accommodations — only a stool in the bathroom and a lower coat hook in his locker.

“He’s very adamant about doing things on his own,” mom Christy Lawler said.

When asked what he’s looking forward to the most about kindergarten, he replied, “The playground.”

Lawler hoped to have the twin boys in different classrooms this fall, she said, so they could grow as individuals.

Derek and Christy Lawler sit in the backyard of a relative's home with their boys Dalen, Noah and Christian. One-year-old Leo is not pictured.
David Samson / The Forum
Derek and Christy Lawler sit in the backyard of a relative's home with their boys Dalen, Noah and Christian. One-year-old Leo is not pictured. David Samson / The Forum

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the hybrid learning model that will be used, any twins in the district will be in the same classroom to minimize possible exposure to the virus and give their parents only one teacher to be in contact with, she said.

“We'll see how much trouble they can get into with each other,” dad Derek Lawler said, smiling.

The twins are close but can also get under each other’s skin, like most siblings do. They might hold hands while napping at day care, but scream at each other while playing a video game.

“They’re best friends and enemies at the same time,” their dad said.

Dalen and Christian Lawler, 5-year-old twin boys, hold hands while napping. Special to The Forum
Dalen and Christian Lawler, 5-year-old twin boys, hold hands while napping. Special to The Forum

With the new school year approaching, the parents recently put the twins in separate bedrooms because they were staying up too late at night, together.

After the twins were born in January 2015, Dalen needed several surgeries. He has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, and required surgery to reduce pressure on his brainstem and spinal cord.

The procedure, done at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, was done when he was just 9 months old.

Dalen has also had tonsil surgery and had his adenoids removed, twice, to help him breathe better.

The last three years, Christy said, Dalen hasn’t had any medical issues, and he’s developing, learning and talking, just like his peers.

Occasionally, people will use inappropriate words to describe Dalen’s condition, and Christy is quick to educate them. She celebrates the individuality of all four of her boys.

“Everybody is special in their own way,” she said.