Dolls reflecting disabilities offer hope to children

Dolls reflecting disabilities offer hope to children

SBS World News Radio: A growing international campaign called Toys Like Me, urging the global toy industry to better represent children with disability and difference, has made its way to Australia.And a Melbourne mother is now contributing to the campaign through her not-for-profit called Hope Toys. 

The joys of being a little girl, dancing, singing, blowing kisses and playing.

But Kate Grant says, for her four-year-old daughter Millie, who has Down syndrome and was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 3, standard dolls do not quite fit the situation.

"It's pretty special when we feel guilty bringing Barbie dolls in with long, blonde, Rapunzel hair when Millie's sitting in a hospital with her bald little head, trying to find her hair like the doll's, but to have a doll that looks just like her is pretty special."

That particular personalised doll comes with its very own wig.

It was a gift for Millie Grant as she was losing hair at the peak of her treatment.

And it is thanks to a mother of four named Maria Kentley.

Ms Kentley says she makes dolls to order, covering a range of disabilities and differences.

"I might get an email from a parent saying, oh, 'My daughter has spina bifida. Can you make a doll for her in a wheelchair with leg splints and a scar on the back?' Another parent might say, oh, 'Can you make a doll with a missing arm or a prosthetic leg?'"

So, what is Maria Kentley's inspiration?

She says it is her two autistic sons.

"For me, I want him to be proud of who he is and to look at the word 'autism' or 'autistic' as a part of who he is but be proud of that and say, 'This makes me unique, and there's nothing wrong with who I am.'"

Because autism does not have any obvious physical characteristics, Ms Kentley emblazoned, "I'm autistic and awesome" across the front of a doll's jumper.

Clinical psychologist Lauren Wertheimer says the dolls will help children attain an acceptance in the wider community.

"According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in every six children have a disability. So by having these dolls, it allows children with a disability to feel valued and important."

Each personalised doll can take Ms Kentley around 15 hours to make and is then sold for about $35 just to cover the costs of materials.

But, as she says, it is evident that the joy it brings the children is priceless.

"The best part of this job is just hearing the feedback and just hearing stories from parents saying, 'Ah, I can't believe how this doll has really boosted her self-esteem.'"

Disability advocates say it promotes good values through play.

Stephanie Gotlib is Chief Executive of Children and Young People with Disability Australia.

"There's a lot of myths and stigma still around disability, and I think this is a really important way of addressing that. It gives children the chance just to explore, to be part of their community, to incorporate that in their play, which is an essential part of development."

Millie Grant's father, Paul Grant, says the look-alike doll has been a welcome distraction and support for her.

"She can then use that doll to give it medicine and look after it as well. I think it's been key to making her feel better and getting her through the days and weeks that she spends in there. It's been very beneficial for her."

 

 

 

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