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Autistic Advocates Don't Love the Puzzle Pieces That Come With Walmart's New Autism Advocate Doll

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One of Walmart’s newest dolls puts autism front and center. Members of the autistic advocate community, however, have called out Walmart’s decision to include puzzle piece imagery that many find harmful.

Named the “autism advocate doll,” Walmart’s doll comes with headphones, a fidget spinner, cellphone and puzzle piece bracelets. The doll’s T-shirt includes an acronym of autism, which reads, “Always unique, totally intelligent, sometimes mysterious.”

As the autistic community got wind of the doll, reviews on Walmart’s website were mixed. While some people were thrilled to see a doll that represented autistic kids, advocates voiced their concern about the doll, especially the puzzle piece imagery.

“This doll in no way positively reflects the autistic community,” wrote one autistic reviewer. “The puzzle piece is a negative connotation. The acronym made with Autism is patronizing. The entire thing is just a ‘No’ from me. It should have never been created without consulting actually autistic people.”

The negative reviews assumed an autistic person was not involved in the doll’s creation. According to Walmart, however, autistic people were involved in the two-year process to bring the autism advocate doll to life.

In an email, a Walmart spokesperson told The Mighty the company consulted “with an autism therapist as well as multiple individuals within the autistic community to gain additional knowledge and insight to help the development of the doll.”

Not all autistic people find the puzzle piece offensive. But, as some advocates pointed out, the puzzle piece has ableist origins that imply there’s something “wrong” with autistic people. Autism is not a disorder that needs to be “fixed.” It’s a neurodiverse way of being that requires understanding and acceptance from neurotypical people.

“Everywhere we looked we were shown this visual that translated to our child having this essential missing piece. As if he was broken or wasn’t whole,” wrote Mighty contributor and parent Tracy Smith. “It’s this horrible image of broken people trying to be shoved into a box (or puzzle) they have no business being in at all.”

Despite the backlash Walmart is facing from some autistic advocates, the company said it created the autism advocate doll to expand its effort to make its toy aisles more inclusive. “Our hope is that the Autism Advocate doll helps spread awareness and acceptance for children with autism,” said Walmart’s spokesperson, adding:

We recognized there was a need for a doll that connected with the autistic community and wanted to provide autistic kids and kids with autistic siblings and friends a doll that represented them. We were very thorough in our research and truly intend for this to be a positive and supportive child’s toy.

The autism advocate doll is available as a Black doll or white doll. It’s currently available for preorder ($29.97) and will start shipping Jan. 12.

Header images via Walmart’s website

Originally published: January 5, 2021
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