Dolls With Down Syndrome May Help Kids

However, offensive comments posted online referencing "Down Syndrome Friends" — another brand of Down syndrome dolls that recently entered the United States market — forced the company behind the dolls to post a disclaimer on its Web site.

Dr. Steven Parker, associate professor of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, says he can't imagine that people would be that insensitive. Though he hadn't previously heard about Down syndrome dolls, he says he often treats children who have cancer; many use dolls to help them cope.

"It's very touching to see a child with an IV who is getting some nasty chemo, clutching a doll who is also bald and getting an IV," Parker says.

"Kids really take a lot of comfort from these dolls. It's wonderful if they can find one that they relate to on an emotional level."

Gina Lozito, a certified child-life specialist at Golisano Children's Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., uses dolls on a daily basis with her patients in the hematology/oncology unit. She has ones in wheelchairs and with leg braces, so a Down syndrome doll would be just another added to the mix.

"It doesn't matter to them," she says. "I don't believe that the kids pick up a doll because it's their race or has their condition. I don't think it should make a difference what the doll looks like."

Teaching Tools

Though it may be in their nature to enjoy playing with dolls, children can also learn from such toys, Parker says.

"I think it's great all around," he says. "Certainly for kids with Down syndrome who look like that, but also for kids who are learning to deal with someone who looks different — maybe if they have a Down syndrome kid in their class."

Moore says many of her customers order the dolls to use as tools for learning about the condition; actress Demi Moore bought them for all three of her children. In addition, several colleges and universities have purchased Downi dolls.

Dr. Susan Anderson, director of the Down Syndrome Program at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital, was one of the first people to buy one. She says she uses it to teach pediatric residents about Down syndrome.

"I think this is an acknowledgement that this is an important group of children that we have in our community," she says.

Both Anderson and Parker say that these types of toys could help demystify the condition for the general public.

"I think when we normalize these conditions in toys and on television," Parker says, "we help to incorporate them into the mainstream of the world, even with these differences."

McKenzie says that she hopes the societal integration of people with Down syndrome will come sooner rather than later. But for now, she welcomes these dolls as progress toward acceptance.

"If it has to be an inanimate object to bridge the gap, it's still great," she says. "We'll take it in baby steps."

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