American Girl Doll Company: Create an Autistic Character for Girl of the Year 2019

    My name is Gina Andrews, and I am autistic. On my tenth birthday, I received a Molly American Girl doll. After that, my love for American Girl dolls blossomed, and before I knew it, several of them took up residence on my bed. Today, I am a 22-year-old veterinary technician student.

    Growing up, I always felt like an outsider looking in. I looked at my classmates and often felt as though I didn't belong. Once I entered middle school, it got worse with bullying and teachers who didn't understand autism, so they just wrote me off as "immature" or a "problem child." I couldn't bear to look at myself in the mirror, because I thought that something was horribly wrong with me. I didn't see myself as just being different. I saw myself as being broken and in need of a cure.

    Today, I know that I don't need to be cured or changed. I am different, but that's okay.

    There are numerous myths surrounding autism. Among my least favorite is that we all lack empathy. That is just not true. Some people believe that all autistic people have low IQs (some do, some don't) or, conversely, that we are all savants or geniuses. Many autistic people, myself included, are more or less in the middle. Autistic people are often sensitive to sensory stimuli, and can become overwhelmed by things like bright lights or loud sounds. Cumulative levels of stress lead to meltdowns, which are very painful to experience, and are the stereotypical "autistic tantrum."

    Teachers and parents often wrongfully assume that the meltdowns are just bad behavior, and punish them, which doesn't help, and if anything, exacerbates the situation. Some assume that autistic people are anti-social or have poor social skills. The fact is, we can be very outgoing, but certain social skills that come naturally to others can take time for us to learn. Some people also believe that autism is caused by vaccines, which has been proven in study after study to be false. There are more myths about autism than I could possibly list here.

    That's why I'm calling on American Girl Dolls to create an autistic character for their Girl of the Year doll in 2019. Such a doll would allow an autistic child to see that she is not alone, and that they are different, not less. It could also be used as an excellent educational tool to teach neurotypical children about autism.

    I created this petition so that, instead of facing discrimination and feeling like pariahs, today's autistic children can be empowered.
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