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Using Dolls To Reduce The Stigma Of Down Syndrome

By KJ Mullins     Jun 29, 2008 in Lifestyle
Little girls love toting around dolls that look like themselves. Desi McKenzie's eldest daughter had that doll but when Aubrey was born the Hawaiian mother couldn't provide the same for her. Aubrey has Down syndrome.
The mother recently found that a few doll makers in the United States and Europe do make the dolls. Ms. McKenzie plans on getting one for Aubrey who is now 10.
Donna Moore is the CEO of Downie Creations, a manufacturer of dolls with Down syndrome. Before an eye disease forced her to stop working outside of the home Ms. Moore had worked with special education students as told to ABC News.
"I just realized that there was a huge need for these dolls because in our society today, so many people put a high emphasis on perfection," Moore says. "When these children pick up a doll such as a Barbie … they can't see themselves, and they needed something to identify with."
The dolls have features that are common among those with Down syndrome; almond shaped eyes, a small mouth, a slightly protruding tongue and low set ears. Since 1996 the product has been a favorite with children with the disorder with about 2,500 dolls ordered so far.
A designer, Jerri McCloud worked with composite pictures of youngsters with the disorder to design the dolls for an realistic look. Because many with the condition have to undergo heart operations the dolls have an "incision scar"
There are more than 350,000 people in the United States alone that were born with Down syndrome. In 1983 the actual lifespan of those with the syndrome was just 25 years because of the complications associated with the genetic disorder. Children with Down have an increased risk of heart defects, breathing problems and childhood leukemia. The survival odds have increased today with newer treatments giving longevity a jump to the age of 56.
A few critics have said that the dolls are exploiting the condition for profit but the majority of feedback has been positive.
The dolls are not cheap at $174.95 but they do have a three monthly payment plan.
Actress Demi Moore is a customer. All of her girls have one of the dolls. Colleges and universities are also big buyers of the Downi dolls.
Dr. Susan Anderson, director of the Down Syndrome Program at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital, who uses the dolls to teach pediatric residents about the syndrome was one of the first to purchase a doll.
"I think this is an acknowledgement that this is an important group of children that we have in our community," she says.
More about Down syndrome, Dolls, Stigma