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Shanell Mouland Headshot

Why Woody and Jessie Enjoy My Daughter's Autism

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I remember the day like it was yesterday. A day when my eldest girl, only 4, decided she was too old for the toys that she had adored to the point of obsession for so long. She was sacrificing her best friends in favor of saucy ponies that worried about the style of their manes and princesses that dreamed of a prince charming. Woody, neither a gentleman nor a scholar, but a worship-worthy hero in his own right, was left at the bottom of the toy bin trapped beneath discarded Barbie parts and long forgotten "baby" toys. Jessie, his gender-stereotype smashing sidekick, would suffer a less dignified fate when she would be found under the play table helping to balance an uneven leg. I rescued these two loyal friends as I knew our littlest girl would soon be 2 and they would once again find a loving home.

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As the little one grew and autism was diagnosed, these two cast-offs would benefit from that diagnosis in a way that only a toy could. Not only did she love these two best friends, but she needed them; she ate, slept and breathed them. She perseverated on Woody and Jessie and their feature films like a maniacal little film critic. She learned to use language through them and to this day she has never let them go. They are as important to her today as the day she discovered them. She offers these toys a level of love and respect that is unmatched and I'm sure they give it right back. I'm not hard-pressed to find positives in my daughter's autism diagnosis, and I'm guessing Woody and Jessie might feel the same.