Her classmates called her "baldie."
Adults often assume she's suffering through radiation treatments.
But the reason six-year-old Maria Mahnken from Elmhurst has only a few thin wisps of downy brown hair on her head isn't cancer. Rather, she has alopecia universalis.
"Alopecia means your hair falls out and your body's allergic to your hair" she said to her classmates, who were sitting cross-legged on a rug in their classroom at Villa Park's Montessori Children's Academy. "Now how silly is that?"
Despite her young age, or perhaps because of it, Maria's grown weary of classroom taunts and adult misunderstandings about her condition.
Now she's on a mission to educate people about her condition.
So she hands out business cards.
"Thank you for your concern! I am not sick," say the white cards decorated with lilacs. "I have alopecia universalis. Only my hair is sick. To learn more about alopecia please visit: www.naaf.org. Thanks! Maria"
Maria, who has a wig but often refuses to wear it, says the cards have been a big help.
"I just like that they don't call me baldie anymore."
And adults no longer think she's ill.
Maria's mother, Elene, has been a big help, too. Together, they've been giving presentations at school and to anyone who'll listen.
"We're hoping that by telling Maria's story we'll get not only the awareness to help her, but all the other millions of people out there who do have this illness."
Maria has no idea if her hair will ever grow back, and if it does, if it will fall out again.
But her mom assuages Maria's feelings.
"You are so lucky, you look good with hair and without hair," her mom tells her. "Not too many can say that!"