Why I Said Yes When My 4-Year-Old Son With Autism Asked for an American Girl Doll

boy holding an american girl doll I shocked a lot of people in the American Girl store when I let my son Gavin pick out a doll. Most of the staff thought we were there just for his sister Kendall and he was there to be a supportive brother.

brother and sister with american girl doll bags

After the new catalog arrived at our house, they both asked if they could get a doll this weekend. I was happy to take Kendall because she had a gift card she’d anxiously been waiting to spend. But words cannot express the excitement I felt when when Gavin asked if he could get a doll too. 

It was only three years ago I sat with this same boy who lined up all of his toys in a row while trying to play. When my husband Doug and I would inquire with his therapy team why he did this, their response was hard to hear. They explained to us Gavin did not understand how to play with toys. To him, lining all of them up or grouping them by colors made sense. Beyond trying to teach him speech, OT, and social skills, they also spent time working with Gavin on understanding what it meant to play. 

When Gavin asked for a doll, it seriously warmed my heart. I wasn’t 100 percent sure he would actually play with it, but I figured we would see how he did at the store.

While Kendall debated about which doll she was going to get, we walked Gavin over to the Bitty Baby section. He immediately grabbed a baby off the shelf and started walking her around. He held her in his arms and hugged and tried to get her to go to sleep.

boy sleeping with his american girl doll Sure, I could have taken him to another retailer afterwards and purchased a significantly cheaper doll for him, but this is this one he wanted and this moment was worth celebrating! Since purchasing our Bitty Baby doll this morning he has named her Baby Jenny. He has explained to all of us that her birthday is June 9 (she’s one month) and that he is her big brother.

As a society we encourage children to play with toys for several different reasons. There are toys that teach kids and there are toys that exist exclusively for them to have fun. Today I was able to watch Gavin excel in pretend play. Finding him snuggled up with his new baby doll tonight is a moment I didn’t even know I had been waiting for all these years.

His journey continues to surprise me and amaze me every day. I see a lot of Bitty Baby accessory shopping in our future. I can’t wait to sit back and watch his imagination take flight with Baby Jenny. 

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

lady gaga in 'born this way'

How Lady Gaga Helps My Mentees on the Spectrum Who Are Bullied

When I was growing up I never really had someone to look up to who was on the autism spectrum. For that reason I looked up to people like actor Will Smith, who had been able to overcome obstacles in his life. Early on, I saw the importance of having a role model and the positive impact on my own development. [...]
Color gears on white isolated background.

Autism Took That Away, but Autism Gave Me That

Last night, my husband and I almost had a fight over something I said to him. I’m thankful after 27 years, he knew me well enough to know my intent wasn’t to hurt him. I had a long day after a long two weeks, and I did not think I could do one more thing [...]
woman with asperger's syndrome

Being Diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum in My 40s

When I was in elementary school, I was diagnosed with speech and hearing problems, and “giftedness” (whatever that is). Since it was 1960s in rural Oregon, there weren’t a lot of resources to deal with things like that. I did have speech and hearing therapy and a supply closet by the nurse’s office that was dark [...]

Having Children With Autism Does Not Make Me a 'Martyr Mommy'

There are few things that really get to me. Working in social media, I scroll through countless offensive and generally awful things on a daily basis. You learn quickly to let things roll off your back or you’ll just feel down all the time. But when I came across this meme while scrolling through my [...]