Growing up, I can remember when American Girl came out with the customizable dolls that could be made to look just like you. My sister and I spent hours looking through the options, selecting which doll would look like us. There is something so special about having a doll that looks just like you.
When my husband and I had our 3-year-old son, Everett, we were presented with a surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome. Throughout both of our childhoods, we had very little exposure to individuals with disabilities. There were very few individuals with disabilities shown on television or movies, our childhoods were a time when children with disabilities were typically segregated in separate classrooms, and we absolutely never saw disabilities represented in toys. Of course, over time we found that Down syndrome was nothing to fear as it makes Everett exactly who he is and we love him with all our hearts.
I would like to think that if we would have had more exposure to individuals with disabilities that we wouldn’t have feared when Everett was born. Luckily, we are now seeing disabilities more openly represented in multiple aspects. There have been television shows, advertisements and movies featuring and celebrating individuals with Down syndrome. We are seeing children’s books about Down syndrome as well as toys. Children with disabilities are now more included with their typical peers in classrooms. We are seeing that inclusion isn’t only benefiting those with disabilities but teachers report that the climate for classrooms becomes more respectful and productive when students with disabilities are included.
For as long as I can remember, Everett has loved playing with baby dolls. He pretends to take care of them, puts them to bed, feeds them and so on. Watching him play with his sister’s dolls I knew I wanted to get him a doll of his own. I also knew I wanted to get a doll that highlighted all of his characteristics, his blonde hair, blue eyes — and Down syndrome. I began my search by looking through multiple doll stores online. I finally came across a small boutique, Hello Boho Babe, that carried a wide range of dolls with Down syndrome. One thing that I loved about this boutique is that the soul of their business is not just strictly focused on dolls with Down syndrome. They carry many typical dolls and in the middle of those are also dolls with Down syndrome. They are not separate or specifically called out, as it should be.
I was ecstatic to find the perfect doll and had a difficult time waiting until Christmas. Watching Everett unwrap his new doll, immediately hug it and give it a kiss on the head is one of my greatest memories as a mom. Our hope with this doll is that it reminds Everett (and our other children as well) that Down syndrome is something to be embraced and not hidden. Now that we are almost two months past Christmas, he still favors this doll over any other.
It’s not just Down syndrome that has been included in toys. Lately I’ve noticed other stores releasing toys with disability awareness. Wal-Mart came out with an Autism Awareness doll. American Girl released doll accessories such as hearing aids and wheelchairs. Mattel released Barbies in wheelchairs. These companies are putting an effort towards showing inclusion for disabilities and I hope others continue to follow.
Even for families that do not have a child with a disability, having availability to dolls with differences is extremely beneficial. It teaches children that differences are OK and should be embraced. Introducing a doll that has Down syndrome (or other disabilities) helps children with overall acceptance of others. My hope for Everett is the same as all parents’ hopes for their children. I hope that as he starts school, he is included by his peers and shown kindness. My hope is that children will not focus on him having Down syndrome and instead focus on his sweet nature and fun personality. Children who are introduced to differences early on will be more likely to show kindness to those who are different from them. Small acts like this can make all the difference.
Neely is a mother of three living in Edmond. She recently made the shift from a corporate career to staying at home with her children. When she’s not busy with the kids, she enjoys advocating for Down syndrome. You can follow her on Instagram at @mrsneelygay.