Growing up, I had an American Girl doll, like many other children. I chose the doll that looked similar to me, and accessories similar to my personality. My doll had a stage, a swan lake costume, dance warm-ups, clothes in my favorite colors, you name it. I treasured this doll because I found her to be similar to me. She still sits in my childhood closet.
Last week, American Girl debuted their Girl of the Year for 2017. Her name is Gabriela, and I’m not ashamed to say I am in love with her. She is a dancer, as I made my own doll to be, but this is built into her story. She’s very creative and enjoys writing poetry. This also resonated with my inner 12-year-old. What I adore most about this character is that she is a person who stutters. From what I can tell of her story, she is working on her public speaking for a good cause, and this is admittedly difficult for her. Yes, I will be buying the books for my speech room. Yes, I’ve already told my students about her. American Girl is using this doll to help so many children find and use their own voices, and to understand that they are not alone in what they experience when they speak. They’re also offering a perspective on disfluent speech for readers who may be unfamiliar with it. By doing this, they are helping to create an inclusive community.
This is not the first time this brand has been inclusive. They now offer the following for any doll: a diabetes care kit, hearing aids, a wheelchair, glasses, and crutches. My students have told me about Gabriela, that they want her, and that they identify with her. My students often feel underrepresented or overlooked, and the idea that people might understand them better through a toy amazes both them and me. I always loved dolls growing up, and I had more than my fair share, but I can assure you I’d have added Gabriela to my collection as soon as possible.
My challenge to you this week: think about ways you can foster an inclusive environment. This may involve speaking to new people at school or work, giving some people the benefit of the doubt when you feel slighted, providing a welcome distraction for someone who might need a break from their every day lives, or anything else you can do to include someone from beyond your usual social circle. Who knows what kind of relationships this could foster–try it and see what comes of it.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP