How a Spanish town pioneered dolls with Down’s syndrome | Down syndrome

TThe first time Kelle Hampton saw a doll with Down’s syndrome, anger bubbled through her. Her exaggerated features hardly resembled the soft facial features she loved in her daughter Nella, born with the genetic disorder.

The experience pitted the American blogger and author firmly against such dolls. But to her surprise, years later, she found herself in love with another doll. This time it had been carefully crafted to subtly capture the characteristics that made Nella unique. “This one was just a beautiful doll that any child would want to play with,” she said.

The doll hails from a small town in eastern Spain that was put on the map after enterprising potters began turning clay from nearby mountains into children’s dolls, giving birth to what has been described as the country’s first doll factory. More than a century later, the spotlight is once again on the Valencian town of Onil, this time for its singular combination of inclusiveness and artisanal doll making.

The town, which has around 7,500 residents and 38 toy makers, made headlines across Spain last year after a local collection of four dolls with Down’s Syndrome won the coveted “toy of the year “.

The dolls – two boys and two girls with different skin colors – were made by toy maker Miniland. “We were worried at first,” said Victoria Orruño, the company’s marketing director. “But the reaction surprised us. It was very positive. “

Dolls from Miniland. Photography: Miniland

The doll is intended for all children, not just those with Down’s syndrome. “Sometimes we forget it, but playing with dolls is a very enriching and educational experience for children,” said Orruño. “They can see different realities and normalize them. “

This realization – that play can be a valuable tool in shaping the way children think – has prompted toy makers around the world to scramble to better capture the rich diversity of the world around us. Non-sexist dolls, in wheelchairs or with prosthetic limbs have proliferated in recent years.

With regard to dolls with Down’s syndrome, the offer has exploded in recent years. This year, retailer Kmart unveiled a pair of dolls with Down’s syndrome at its stores in Australia and New Zealand, while at Onil – where the idea of ​​a doll with Down’s syndrome caught on in 2007 – the maker of Down’s syndrome local toys Toyse announced last year a collaboration with Spain’s national Down’s syndrome organization to create its own line of dolls.

In 2015, The Doll Factory Europe, based in Onil, which ships around 95% of its products outside of Spain, launched what is today a collection of six dolls with Down’s syndrome. “The response has been fantastic,” said Francisco Herrera of the company.

One of the dolls from Doll Factory Europe
One of the dolls from Doll Factory Europe. Photography: The Europe doll factory

The city’s century-old method of making dolls is closely linked to the push for inclusion, he added. “Today there are still sculptors who use clay from the mountain to create the dolls,” Herrera said. “From there, the molds are made.

It was one of the Herrera dolls that captured Hampton’s heart. On Christmas morning 2018, she watched her daughter Nella carefully lift the doll over her shoulder and gently pat her back. The doll barely left her arms that day, with Nella repeatedly telling her sister that her doll – which she named Nella – was like her.

It was a powerful reminder of the power to be seen and celebrated. “It was a little thing we could do to help her feel what we hope she will be surrounded by all her life – the message that people with Down’s syndrome are beautiful, capable and loved,” Hampton wrote on her blog. at the time. “And I knew she could feel him holding that doll.”

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