Spielwarenmesse: A doll like me - dolls for children with special needs

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A doll like me - dolls for children with special needs

from Harald Hemmerlein

Customisation is a cool concept for marketing experts, who like to extol the virtues of custom products. American Amy Jandrisevits is no marketing expert, but she does love dolls and has a great deal of empathy for children with special needs. She has very successfully turned her hand to creating customised dolls – as an image of these children.

girl with a doll from "A doll like me"

Almost all toys, but dolls and soft animals in particular, have a very strong emotional tug for children. They may be somebody to relate to, take out their frustrations on or comfort them as 'worry eaters'. Children are usually less concerned than adults about the realism of a doll and are happy with something approaching the outline of a real body. They do not need an object to have well-formed facial features to accept it as a doll and companion.

As a social worker in the field of paediatric oncology, Amy Jandrisevits came across many children with physical disabilities. She wondered to herself whether a child that had lost hair due to chemotherapy might not prefer to cuddle up with a doll without hair too.

dolls for children with special needs

As a competent seamstress and doll collector, she started the A Doll Like Me project on Instagram a good three years ago. Initially, she presented a blond doll with a leg stump and prosthesis intended for a girl with similar physical attributes.

The response was overwhelming. She received interest from countless media outlets in the US and then the world, which went on to spread the doll maker’s message, summarised on her Facebook profile: “In an ideal world, limb difference, body type, medical condition, birthmarks and hand differences would be as accepted as all of the other things that make us unique.”

She describes the motivation for her work as follows: “I practised play therapy in a children’s hospital for many years. I noticed there was a big gap in the current toy market. You can’t expect an African American child who has lost their hair to form a connection with a white doll with blonde hair. As dolls play a key role in play therapy, I found it difficult to help many of the children for those reasons.”

child with a doll from "a doll like me"

Some time after gaining this insight, the doll maker was asked for a doll for a little girl whose leg had been amputated. She had never intended to turn her idea into a business model, but news of what she was doing spread rapidly over social media. Within two months, she had orders for 200 dolls. At this stage, she has already created almost 400 dolls for children all over the world.

Amy Jandrisevits produces her dolls on her dining table at home and sells them for 100 USD. According to her GoFundMe campaign, she uses the funds raised to cover the costs of dolls for those who can’t afford them. The campaign has been running since 2015 and has brought in around 126,000 USD to date. She finds children and parents who may be interested in her work in cooperation with paediatric hospitals. Her company A Doll Like Me, Inc. is a registered non-profit organisation.

Amy Jandrisevits works from photos and offers her customers dolls that look so similar to their future owners that they can immediately identify with them, as evidenced by touching unboxing videos.

dolls for children with special needs

Amy Jandrisevits is ultimately running a craft business. There is no other way to produce these products (apart from a number of attempts to achieve the same effect with the aid of 3D printing). Therefore, her dolls are not necessarily a mass market product. However, the media response has helped her to raise awareness of the special needs of special children. Moreover, she has provided important guidance as to the real significance of dolls and other toys for children.

There are toy manufacturers in the mass market that reflect the concept of being different in their offerings. Spielwarenmesse eG, through its trend scouts, has identified one of three mega trends for 2020 that is all about this: 'Be you!'.

There are many examples, including dolls and toy figures in wheelchairs, games and books that help children to build empathy and media offerings for children that address what it means to be different, to name just a few.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.

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Author of this article:

Harald Hemmerlein

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