Parents Of Child With Down Syndrome Design Toys Promoting Inclusivity
SEAL BEACH, Calif. — Mayra and Roberto Contreras never imagined that, after years of medical school, they would wind up in the toy business.
But when the Seal Beach couple learned their first child, Olivia Rose, had Down syndrome, life suddenly took them on an unexpected journey.
In 2014, when Olivia was 2, the Contrerases realized they could not find the perfect doll for Olivia — one that resembled her, and that was soft and cuddly. So they decided to design one themselves.
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Roberto Contreras did some online research, and found a company that customizes dolls. Working from a photo of Olivia, DF Plush created a 9-inch doll wearing a bright red dress and an enchanting grin.
One slight hitch: The company required a minimum order of 3,000. “Let’s just say we spent more than $10,000,” Roberto Contreras said. “It was a labor of love.”
He and his wife then began selling the remainders at Down syndrome advocacy events and through amazon.com, with the philosophy that the Olivia Rose doll could connect with more than just one little girl.
That led to the next step. The Contrerases know children with cerebral palsy, so they decided to introduce two more dolls — a boy and a girl — each wearing leg braces. And, for good measure, they added a cloth wheelchair.
They named their venture Electric Rose Toys. The four items, thus far, can be purchased for $19.99 each. Fifteen percent of profits go to the Down Syndrome Association of Orange County.
The Contrerases met 24 years ago as undergraduate students at the University of Southern California. They managed a long-distance marriage while attending medical school — she at the University of California, Irvine and he at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Roberto, 42, practices internal medicine, and Mayra, 41, is an obstetrician/gynecologist.
Mayra Contreras became pregnant with Olivia at age 33 — two years before what is considered “advanced maternal age,” when extra testing is recommended. She did not have an amniocentesis to screen for chromosomal abnormalities, which could have prepared the new parents for a baby with Down syndrome.
“We found out when she was born,” Mayra Contreras said. “There was a grieving process. We didn’t have the daughter we had planned. But we quickly came to accept and love this child, which was very easy to do.”
Then, to add to the “chaos,” as Contreras describes it, she learned she was again pregnant when Olivia was only five months old. “I lost track of birth control,” she said with a laugh. “I’m a bad O.B.!”
Her husband took the surprise news more calmly than she, he said: “I was like, ‘Oh, cool! Another baby? How hard can it be?’ Boy, was I naive!”
They both came to see the advantages of raising two kids close in age. Robert, 5, and Olivia, 6, play together constantly — which, their parents say, has benefited Olivia’s development. “She wants to do everything he does,” Mayra Contreras said.
Robert sometimes feels jealous of the extra attention Olivia receives. Why didn’t he get a T-shirt with his name on it for the recent Down syndrome awareness walk?
“Explain that to a five-year-old,” Mayra Contreras said. “To Robert, Olivia is just his sister. So this spring, we’re going to make T-shirts that say ‘Team Robert’ for a big family picnic.”
From the time she was just two months old, Olivia has undergone a regimen of physical and speech therapies. She can understand and read simple sentences.
That busy schedule led Mayra Contreras, who worked part-time after Olivia’s birth, to take a break from her career last year. Now she is focusing more on Electric Rose Toys — marketing the dolls to stores and plotting new products. Knock Knock Toys & Gifts on Main Street in Seal Beach began selling the dolls in October.
The business partners want to roll out more dolls for “marginalized children,” Roberto Contreras said.
“We want the dolls to be an educational tool that promotes inclusion,” he said. “For instance, I have in mind a Sikh doll wearing a turban and a bald doll representing a child going through chemotherapy.”
At one time, Mayra Contreras said, she and her husband had high ambitions for whatever children they might have — from a sought-after daycare center to an elite college. But their priorities have shifted.
“Olivia has made us better parents,” she said. “Now our main goal is for our kids to be happy.”
© 2018 The Orange County Register
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