'It's a comfort not a cure' - Irish charity launches new Down Syndrome doll
An Irish charity is using a new Down Syndrome doll as part of their therapy programme.
Billy's Dolls of Comfort say that while the dolls are "a comfort not a cure", they claim they have been proven to help people with a range of conditions, particularly those with Alzheimer's.
Winnie O'Neill founded the organisation about 18 months ago and she explained how the toys make a big difference.
Winnie, who lives in Carbury in Co Kildare, told Independent.ie: "My daughter works in a nursing home and she was telling me that many of the Alzheimer's patients like dolls, I was intrigued by this so I decided to collect some to give to nursing homes.
"When I was first asking people to donate they thought I was mad, they'd never heard of doll therapy. I brought any that needed restoration to a knitting lady who gives them fabulous makeovers and any, that aren't suitable for elderly patients, are given in the Christmas shoebox appeal to children in places like Haiti and the Philippines.
"It's all about the kids and older people.
"It was only after I gave it that I found out it's not just people with Alzheimer's the dolls help but they provide comfort to all sorts of people.
"We also deliver dolls to autistic children in schools.
"We've been told that these dolls can really help calm older people who might be distressed, we got a call a few weeks ago about a woman with Alzheimer's who was crying over the death of her son and when we gave her a boy doll that was wrapped up, seemingly that did the trick and helped her."
Billy's Dolls of Comforts has grown so much over the past year and a half that Winne now runs it with business partner Jennifer Brady and three volunteers.
This week Winnie (54) provided her first doll that is designed to resemble someone with Down Syndrome, which she has named Noah.
She said: "The reason we got the Noah doll was because we got a call from a nursing home in Athlone saying there was a client there who was very upset. When we got there it turned out her son has Down Syndrome and she was missing him but we didn't have a doll with Down Syndrome so we went looking for one online and we tracked some down to a company in Germany.
"We ordered them and they took a few weeks to come and there was a lot of delays and we couldn't understand why but we're going to be giving it to the woman now.
"If she bonds with Noah and wants to keep him we'll have to charge, it'll be between €80 and €100. We've never charged before, everything we do is completely free but this doll is specialised and it cost us to order him.
"If other people want one we can get them for them too, it's no problem.
"I've never seen a Down Syndrome doll before but we've been led to believe that children with Down Syndrome gel quicker with them than with other dolls."
They receive no funding and rely on donations and Winnie says that the organisation is "getting bigger than her" and she would love to receive sponsorship.
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