Hope Toys – Maria’s Story
In 2014 my son, Christian (3) was diagnosed with Autism, four months ago his younger brother Ethan (2) received the same diagnosis. For my husband and I, it was like entering a new dimension of this life here on earth; a journey of a new understanding and experience as parents of children with special needs. Of course our children are exactly the same to us as they were before they were diagnosed, but we realized that they would inevitably encounter challenges. In particular we were concerned about the lack of understanding in society about Autism that can often lead to discrimination.
I want my children to know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made regardless of what diagnosis they may have. Kids love to see themselves in the toys they play with but for children with disabilities, illnesses, and chronic conditions, it’s rare to find a toy that represents their lives. To me, the meaning of ‘real life’ and ‘normal’ is everyday people. I don’t like the idea of my children growing up with the idea that they are never going to be good enough in this world because they are different.
I then realized that there are many other families who are facing the same challenges as me; trying to encourage their children to have healthy sense of value and identity in the face of illness or disability. When I came across the work of Sonia Singh from Tree Change Dolls I was inspired. Sonia repaints and redresses Bratz dolls to give them a younger, more innocent, childlike appearance. I immediately thought ‘why not do the same thing for children with special needs?’
The first doll I made was a Bratz Boyz doll, designed to look like a teenage version of Christian wearing a shirt that says ‘I’m Autistic & Awesome.’
That was the beginning of Hope Toys – toys that bring hope. I’ve since made customized dolls representing many different conditions, including cancer, and genetic disorders, as well as dolls with missing limbs, vision impairment, with mobility assists like walkers and wheelchairs and more recently, support dogs.
The most rewarding thing is seeing the difference it makes when a child sees a toy that has been made in their honour.
One of the best compliments I’ve had was from a mother who said that her daughter was so happy to have a visually impaired doll just like her, that she wanted to sleep with her and took her to show her off to all of her kindergarten friends. Knowing that the doll I made for her made such a difference to her self-esteem was priceless. Another customer told me her niece goes everywhere with her doll in the wheelchair she is so attached to her. It brings a tear to my eye knowing the dolls make such a positive difference to these children and their families.
Not only do the dolls bring hope and joy to their new owners but we have also been able to raise awareness and funds for some of the more rare illnesses and disabilities through links on our website and Facebook page. I also hope that the message gets out to toy manufacturers that toys for children with special needs, should stop being just ‘limited editions’ and instead become permanent options in mainstream toy stores.
Children learn good values through play. Parents can help weave diversity into the fabric of children’s everyday lives. Encouraging your child to play with a diverse range of toys and dolls is a great step in helping children accept, understand, and value their rich and varied world. Our aim is to make different toys that are not only inclusive and affordable but a reminder that every child is fearfully and wonderfully made.
I am a stay at home mum with four children under seven years of age but it is amazing what can be achieved when we respond to the God whisper in our heart.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”