Wal-Mart’s “Autism Advocate” Doll Misses the Mark

I’m livid. Absolutely beyond enraged. I will try to stay civil so I still have a piece people can share when I’m done here, but I honestly don’t know if that’s possible.

This came to my attention Before Coffee and I’m still working on my first cup, so bear with me y’all. This might not be pretty.

So here’s the doll:

Image of the blonde version of Walmart's "Autism Advocate" version of their My Life As dolls. It comes with headphones and puzzle piece accessories
Photo credit walmart.com

The description from their website reads:

The My Life As 18″ Poseable Autism Advocate Doll is the perfect companion for the child that wants to help others learn how to be kind, patient, and supportive of everyone. Featuring a sweet expression and rooted hair that can be brushed and styled, this doll is sure to bring a smile to your child’s face. With eyes that open and close, and arms and legs that move, your child will have tons of fun playing games of pretend or carrying it around during play time, rest time, or car trips. This doll is dressed up in a red vest, gray T-shirt, denim ruffle skirt, and fun rubber bracelets. The toy cell phone, fidget spinner, beanie cap, and headphone accessories provide hours of imaginative playtime and fun. My Life As 18″ Poseable Autism Advocate Doll is designed for children ages 5 and up.

It’s unclear whether this doll is meant to represent an Autistic self-advocate or if she’s supposed to be a non-Autistic autism advocate. Not sure if Walmart is even aware that there’s a difference.

The headphones could imply that she’s got sensory processing issues and wears them as an accommodation, but they’re also a common accessory for non-Autistic individuals. Same with the fidget spinner. Originally those were meant as stim toys but they became popular with everyone.

red vest, gray T-shirt, denim ruffle skirt, and rubber bracelets with toy cell phone, fidget spinner, beanie cap, and headphone accessories
Image credit Walmart.com

The puzzle piece bracelets and the acronym shirt are clear indicators that she’s either not meant to represent an #ActuallyAutistic advocate or that Walmart didn’t do their due diligence in the research and design process. Both of those items have been discussed at length within the Autistic Community, and for the most part, vehemently rejected. They were not created or chosen by Autistics, and the organizations that use them are often on a mission to “cure” autistim or prevent Autistics from being born in the first place. There are few Autistic advocates who embrace these symbols enough to actually wear them. Very few. (And it’s possible they’ve got a bit of internalized ableism to work through. That’s a difficult and personal process we’re all tasked with.)

So. Either Walmart has attempted to pigeonhole the entire Autistic Community into a cute little marketable doll, or they’ve made a doll to represent the non-Autistic “autism advocates” that continue to silence us, speak over us, and minimize our experiences while profiting off of their own outside perspective of what autism is. Either way, not good.

Are any of the proceeds going to organizations run by and for Autistics? Housing programs for Autistic adults? Funds to help Autistic families create in home sensory areas? Employment programs to assist the estimated 85% of Autistics who are unemployed or under employed? Grants to assist us with ANYTHING?? Or are folks just helping line the pockets of billionaires when they buy this?

Millions of Autistics are living in poverty, homeless, stuck in abusive households without personal autonomy or access to communication, struggling to survive in a society that’s been made almost completely inaccessible to us, while Walmart is making a profit off of dolls that are a literal and figurative representation of our oppression.

For the low low price of $30, you too can be a part of that oppression! Just in time for Christmas!


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