Former social worker Amy Jandrisevits makes an inclusive line of dolls that help make kids with special needs feel represented.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 24, 2020.
Growing up, the kinds of toys you play with can make all the difference. When I was a child, I always felt like the way I looked was wrong because there were no dolls, cartoon characters or actresses that looked like me. Thankfully, things are changing. Bigger companies like Mattel are now producing dolls in different shapes, genders and skin tones, for instance. However, Amy Jandrisevits is taking things a step further with her A Doll Like Me line. She is of the belief that dolls are "therapeutic, validating, and comforting," therefore, she filled the gap in the market for dolls with disabilities. Now, she makes all children feel loved and included.
"I am a doll-maker who feels that every kid, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, medical issue, or body type, should look into the sweet face of a doll and see their own," she writes on the GoFundMe page for her project. "I talk a lot about changing the narrative - changing WHO we see and HOW we see them. I believe that we are not only connected to one another, but we are obligated to take care of the people in our village - the global village, so to speak - and it is our responsibility to make sure that everyone has a place at the table." She's doing her part to make sure every child—wheelchair, skin marks, scars and all—has a place at the table.
As a former pediatric oncology social worker, she used play therapy in order to help children adjust to situations that felt out of their control. This was difficult to do when none of the dolls she had access to looked like the children she worked with. She asks, "Play therapy is how kids work through all of that, and dolls are an integral part of the process. What you ideally want is for a child to see him or herself in the doll that you are using because, again, shouldn't all kids be able to see themselves?" She notes that while to abled folk it's a small difference to see a doll with skin colorings or birthmarks, it means the world to children who may look different from the "norm" we've been conditioned to see.
So she decided to change the status quo. Working off of her dining room table, Amy stitches together dolls that look exactly like the kids who will play with them. Each doll starts off as a simple piece of fabric and is then custom-made to look like the child it will reach. Usually, parents or other caregivers purchase these dolls for their children. In certain cases, though, she steps in and sends them the doll for free. "It's that important," she affirms. "If we truly want to talk about the overall health of a child, we need to promote a healthy and positive self-identity." She's even partnered with children's hospitals to identify kids who could really benefit from a doll that looks like them. The money she raises using her GoFundMe fundraiser is used to supply those children with dolls.
Over time, Amy has been able to turn her A Doll Like Me campaign into a nonprofit. She states, "Many kids have never have had the opportunity to see their sweet faces reflected in a doll. It's hard to tell a child that they are beautiful but follow it with, 'But you'll never see yourself in anything that looks like you.' I think that a doll is a tangible way to show kindness." If you want to show some kindness, you can visit her GoFundMe page here and make a donation.