SINGAPORE - When her son was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder at the age of two, homemaker Padmini Sriman was crushed.
Ten years on, the Singaporean mother has not only brought joy to her son, but also hope to many other parents.
The answer is child's play. Or, rather, dolls that are expressive.
"I searched high and low for answers," recalled Ms Sriman, who is currently living in the United States with her family.
"I even took on teaching him as a 'project'."
Her son Aneesh, now 12, had a condition that manifests as mild delays in speech and fine motor skills, which made it difficult for him to understand body language and facial expressions.
Things changed after Ms Sriman, a former electrical engineer, stumbled upon an ordinary stuffed pig while playing with Aneesh and his twin sister Preethi.
"The stuffed pig had loose eyebrows, so I turned them down, which made it look sad," she said. "The reaction from the kids was instantaneous. They were riveted."
For Aneesh, she added, the expressive toy drew an enthusiastic reaction where flashcards and other traditional teaching tools had failed.
To help more children learn about feelings and emotions, especially those with social-emotional development difficulties like her son, Ms Sriman developed a line of dolls called Emotiplush earlier this year.
The dolls come with pliable eyebrows and lips designed to convey a variety of expressions. They are available in four characters of different ethnicity.
"Using these dolls, you can help your child play out and understand different emotions and life situations, which can help them pick up social skills more easily," explained Ms Sriman.
"Grades are important, to a certain point, in getting you your job, but social-emotional skills help you to flourish.
"When you meet someone, the first thing that you look at is how he engages with you, and not his grades in Physics."
Ms Sriman added that the Emotiplush dolls "can be teaching tools or plain fun", as they would benefit children without special needs as well.
To raise funds for her project, she embarked on a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter last month. It ends on Aug 31.
Social worker Cindy Frech, who has used the dolls at the Indian Prairie School District in the United States as part of the pre-school programme, said that the children enjoy experimenting with the dolls.
"This promotes more discussion about what their own faces look like when they are experiencing various emotions," she said.
Closer to home, child psychiatrist Brian Yeo was upbeat about Emotiplush as well.
"Children who have pervasive developmental disorder usually have difficulty understanding bodily cues and expressions - and these are things that are very hard to teach," he explained.
"It's useful that such a doll can help these children attain a higher sense of interaction, and perhaps even master a sense of empathy.
"It would be wonderful if they could get to this step."
To support the Emotiplush project, go to http://bit.ly/emotiplush
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