The Today Show recently highlighted a video of a little girl with a prosthetic leg crying tears of joy after being given a doll that had been modified to look just like her, with a matching prosthetic leg. The video went viral on social media and made quite a splash. “Thank you for making a doll like me!” 10-year-old Emma Bennett exclaimed.
The reassuring feeling of having a companion you can confide in who faces your same challenges is part of the delight of having a doll. It turns out there are a number of dolls available for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, too. Here are some options:
- Signing Works. This company started out in 2012 making bunnies that sign. The ‘I Can Sign’ bunny has posable fingers that children can use to practice sign language. Kids who are too shy to sign with their teacher or a parent will practice with the doll. Parents who don’t know how to teach their deaf children are able to use the doll to make signing less intimidating. Through cooperative efforts with the Lion Club, hundreds of bunnies have been distributed to children in schools for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Today, ‘I Can Sign’ dolls come as boys, girls or bunnies. Many schools prefer the bunnies because they are gender-neutral. Dolls are customizable: You can choose hair and eye color, and add optional hearing aids. Plans are in motion for a doll hospital, coloring and children’s books with the dolls as characters, and maybe even retail stores.
- American Girl. American Girl was one of the first manufacturers to offer optional hearing aids for its dolls. This toy maker says on its site “our experts will perform a permanent piercing behind her ear to ensure the hearing aid is expertly fitted—in one or both ears.” The hearing aids are removable. Another American Girl doll comes with a service dog. The dolls can be fitted with glasses, braces, crutches a wheel chair or even without hair for those who have lost hair to cancer. The manufacturer makes a whole range of dolls designed to look like the children who own them.
- Flaghouse Just Like Me Dolls. The global supplier of resources for education and special needs’ ‘Just Like Me’ dolls are available as boys or girls who are black, white, Hispanic or Asian. Hearing aids for the dolls are available. Additional optional accessories include a wheelchair, vinyl glasses, forearm crutches, leg braces, walker, a seeing eye dog and dark vinyl glasses.
- Build-a-Bear Workshops. Build-a-Bear was started when one 10-year-old girl couldn’t find the right kind of Teddy Bear in a shop, and suggested to her adult companion that they just make their own bear instead. Today, in one of 400 Build-a-Bears stores worldwide, you can custom-build a furry friend from one of 30 different bear, dog, cat, dinosaur and other animal options. The company even has special arrangements with some licensed characters, so that you can assemble Dory, My Little Pony or one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The company has plush hearing aids that you can include as part of your building project.
Playing with dolls boosts creativity, helps brain development, assists children in learning about the human body and increases social skills. It’s also a great way to re-enact things in order for kids to increase their understanding of events. Using a doll, kids will sometimes enjoy taking on the adult role in order to feel a sense of control and power, and to model a care-giving role. It’s a great way to prepare for a sibling.
Having a doll that is ‘just like me’ may provide deaf and hard-of-hearing children a special friend to bond with in a way that could increase their self-esteem, as well as provide lots of fun.