Autistic Alex

Blogging about neurodiversity, psychology and autism research.

Why you need to stop using the puzzle piece to represent autistic people

267 Comments

I hate the puzzle piece. I hate it with every fiber of my being. Therefore, since in a lot of places it’s national autism awareness month, I’m going to write about why you shouldn’t use the puzzle piece.

 

First; a little history on the puzzle piece. It was originally a national autistic society symbol. It’s history is documented here , towards the end of the piece, but the important bits regarding the puzzle piece are quoted lower down here. (trigger warning for ableism on that piece).

That first logo was this.

[Image description] A disembodied weeping head on a puzzle piece.

[Image description] A disembodied weeping head on a puzzle piece.

“’The Committee decided that the symbol of the Society should be the puzzle as this did not look like any other commercial or charitable one as far as they could discover’. It first appeared on our stationary and then on our newsletter in April 1963. Our Society was the first autistic society in the world and our puzzle piece has, as far as I know, been adopted by all the autistic societies which have followed, many of which in their early days turned to us for information and advice.

The puzzle piece is so effective because it tells us something about autism: our children are handicapped by a puzzling condition; this isolates them from normal human contact and therefore they do not ‘fit in’. The suggestion of a weeping child is a reminder that autistic people do indeed suffer from their handicap.

If, in the future, we can invest in our Society even more thought, effort and commitment, our puzzle piece will, at least in this country, become no longer just a logo on a letterhead but a symbol of hope for autistic people and their families.”

Let’s take this apart. So, it was adopted because it didn’t look like any other logos, which is fine. But then this apparently tells us something about autism, which is not ok. Now, this piece is from 1997, and the logo was changed in 2002, so this does not likely reflect current views of the national autistic society, although it is still on their site. Apparently we don’t fit in, we suffer (hence the weeping child)because we are autistic, and we are puzzling/ disabled by a puzzling condition. Oh, and it’s supposed to be a symbol of hope. I’ll explain why all these things are bad later in this post, but this is mainly here to show that the puzzle piece never, ever had positive connotations.

It has now of course been co-opted by organisations far worse than the national autistic society ever was, like Autism Speaks, which if nothing else is a good enough reason it give it up on it’s own.

The first problem I have with the puzzle piece is that it’s a very childish symbol. Although many adults do love jigsaws, it is predominantly a child’s activity, and as such has connotations of childhood. This is bad for the autistic community as a whole, as more of us are adults than are children, but people really do forget we exist, and that phrases like “autistic children and their families” excludes a good chunk of the autistic population. We really don’t need more association with childhood. It’s hard to deny that images like this are undeniably childish.

[Image description] Image is of a ribbon with small puzzle pieces in bright, primary colours.

[Image description] Image is of a ribbon with small puzzle pieces in bright, primary colours.

There is then the issue of the implications of using a puzzle piece. It implied that we are something to be solved or fixed, which simply isn’t true. We don’t need to be fixed, or solved  there’s nothing wrong with us, and most attempts to fix us, such as ABA are actively harmful. This implication of the puzzle piece is reflected is autism speaks “until all the pieces fit” rhetoric, and reinforces the idea that we are broken.

[Image description] A puzzle piece ribbon in a box, with text reading “The autism awareness ribbon: The puzzle pattern of this ribbon reflects the mystery and complexity of autism. The different colours and shapes represent the diversity of those living with this disorder. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope- hope through research and increasing awareness in people like you]

[Image description] A puzzle piece ribbon in a box, with text reading “The autism awareness ribbon: The puzzle pattern of this ribbon reflects the mystery and complexity of autism. The different colours and shapes represent the diversity of those living with this disorder. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope- hope through research and increasing awareness in people like you]

Another thing the puzzle piece is supposed to symbolise is the “mystery and complexity of autism”. Autism is no more mysterious or complex than any other neurological disorder really. And it doesn’t exist as a thing separable from autistic people, so they’re really trying to say that we’re mysterious because they don’t understand us. Clue: Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s mysterious. The key part in that is you not understanding something, because autistic people tend to understand ourselves pretty well, and allistic less well, but we don’t get to go around calling you “mysterious”, because well, we’d look silly calling something mysterious because we personally couldn’t make sense of it. I don’t go around calling calculus mysterious just because I personally don’t understand it, because I understand that there are people who do.

I’ll touch on the colours issue since most puzzle piece art for “autism awareness” is in this colour scheme of bright red and yellow, light blue and dark blue. So, that’s supposed to represent the “diversity” of autistic people? With a really childish colour scheme? When most us are adults? Yes, we’re all different, that’s true with any group of people. I don’t really get how three colours represents diversity either. Maybe a rainbow would be better like, I don’t know, the neurodiversity symbol?

[Image description] A rainbow hued infinity symbol.

[Image description] A rainbow hued infinity symbol.

Hope for autistic people. What does that mean? “hope through research and awareness” doesn’t sound very good to me. Research seems like cure, because, well has the understanding of the neurotypical brain really improved neurotypical lives? Are most allistic people somehow better off than they were a hundred years ago because we now know which part of the brain is connected to emotions? Obviously not. People being vaguely aware of autism doesn’t actually help very much either. Acceptance would, but really, the puzzle piece is about fixing us, not helping or accepting  us.

We’re people, not puzzles, we’re whole, there’s nothing wrong with us. There are indeed communication barriers between autistic people and neurotypicals, but they go both ways, we are not the puzzle. You only see pieces missing from a person if you have this preconceived idea of what “person” looks like. If you don’t then you just see a person who’s not like you. This is the idea behind neurodiversity, that we may not be like you, but that this doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with us.

[Image description]A white woman (aspierhetor) with blonde hair, holding a blue sign that reads: "People not puzzles!" (from aspierhetor)

[Image description]A white woman (aspierhetor) with blonde hair, holding a blue sign that reads: “People not puzzles!” (from aspierhetor)

Now, people do argue that since it’s an established sign for autism (regardless of whether a lot of that was done by autism speaks) people should continue to use it. But is is a harmful one, it doesn’t have any positive meanings and it never really did. It isn’t, therefore, something we should be trying to reclaim as autistic people, as it isn’t really a neutral symbol used against us by organisations like autism speaks, it’s always been a negative symbol.

We have positive symbols, like the National Autistic Society’s new logo

[Image description] A heavily stylised symbol of two figures reaching out to each other, with text reading “The National Autistic Society”

[Image description] A heavily stylised symbol of two figures reaching out to each other, with text reading “The National Autistic Society”

and the neurodiversity symbol

[Image description] A rainbow hued infinity symbol.

[Image description] A rainbow hued infinity symbol.

so we should use them.

If you can think of any other points do put them in the comments, I’m sure I’ve missed one or two.

 

Links to other people talking about the puzzle piece

http://suburpcomix.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/the-puzzle-piece-symbol-for-autism/

http://unpuzzled.net/2012/04/23/on-puzzles-privilege-and-missing-pronouns-from-journeys-with-autism/

http://diversityrules.typepad.com/my_weblog/2012/04/puzzling-people.html

http://unpuzzled.net/

Advertisements

267 thoughts on “Why you need to stop using the puzzle piece to represent autistic people

  1. Pingback: Let’s get this straight? | tictoc11's Blog

  2. Hi Alex, I already strongly agree why the puzzle symbol is no good for us, before finding your site.
    Recently I have been looking for the most appropriate symbol that I can use as a positive identifier for myself. I am an Aspie, formally diagnosed as an adult on the autism spectrum, and have had some improvement at managing the NT world with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which has helped me manage anxiety and other aspects significantly.

    I often find it frustrating that NT’s impose their view of autism on me, including that still being autistic requires more medication. Very frustrating, when in the right environment I have been very capable of making a useful contribution in certain technical fields. The diagnosis came as a result of seeking therapy for coping skills, and further referrals resulted in formal diagnosis, and the current acceptance of the autism label has saved me a lot of frustrating explanations that usually seem to get nowhere. Although I’ve always accepted myself, at last my lifetime of struggle is understood by some.

    There is still a way to go in how society treats neuro diverse people as needing fixing, rather than acceptance and support, and I feel I understand where you are coming from in what you express.

    All the best

  3. i really respectfully do not think the color of the ribbon matters. Autism has so much research and services (my brother has autism), that is the only thing we should really be worried about. The more colorful, the more noticeable something is. The disease I have is extremely under-diagnosed, many doctors have never heard of it and there is little funding. So instead of arguing about a little thing about what the ribbon looks like, i think we should all be glad there is so much research and money going into autism. This is my opinion, please do not attack me. Again I have a brother who suffers from autism. I hope we can all stop fighting, because it is not helping anyone.

  4. There are adult jigsaw puzzles out there.

  5. The fact that my blog is nowadays headed by a customised version of the rainbow infinity symbol, and that another version appears on my personal cards makes it fairly obvious where I stand. Thank you for this excellent post.

  6. Pingback: An Autistic Announcement | Barefoot Betsy's Thoughts

  7. Pingback: Autism awareness. Aspergers no more. – Fred Klonsky

  8. Pingback: Autism Awareness Day! – Site Title

  9. Pingback: Outside of the thinking box – uneasywords

  10. Pingback: Alex Kronstein: What is autistic culture? - Nova Scotia Advocate

  11. Hi Alex. I am an Autistic girl that loves the true symbol for Autism. I believe the true meaning behind the puzzle piece is that we all fit together in our own ways. I know that it seems odd, however, I think people prefer different things but honestly,the puzzle piece shows all of the history of autism research.

    • Agreed.

    • I love this! This is exactly what it’s supposed to mean

      • My comment was supposed to be in reply to someone else. It’s supposed to mean that everyone fits together uniquely and as a whole creates this beautiful human race we are all apart of. Don’t look at he negatives behind a puzzle piece that is supposed to stand for something so beautiful. And ABA isn’t harmful unless someone practices outside of competence. ABA has helped hundreds of thousands of children function and mainstream into classrooms and remove injurious behaviors that were impeding learning. I think you should do some research on the individuals who are trying to so hard to find the best ways to help those with autism.

  12. As someone who has been diagnosed with autism myself, I decided to share my thoughts. Personally, I like the puzzle piece. It’s cute, kid friendly, etc. But I also like it because it shows that, no matter how different, we are all pieces of a puzzle, put together, we form the world. I never thought it meant a puzzling condition, and I still don’t. I can understand your reasoning, but these are my personal views on the subject.

  13. Pingback: Justifying Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in a Neurodiverse World: Pros and Cons of Applied Behavior Analysis - Early Childhood Education Degrees

  14. Disagree with this article. The puzzle is a great symbol for Autism, jigsaw puzzles are definitely not just for children also.

    The symbol as so much depth and connection to the community. Being able to find a place in this world, we are all pieces of the bigger picture, finding the world a puzzling place at times, structure in our lives, organisation. Social interaction and learning.

    Many find it hard to see anything but their own percpective on this matter and have let it be hijacked and used against. The rainbow infinity symbol doesn’t have any significant meaning to Autism. It looks more like it is for pride.

  15. Totally how I feel! I love the line in the Evanescence song “Hello”… “Don’t try to fix me. I’m not broken.” I’m not a mystery for you to figure out. I’m just me. And that ought to be enough.

  16. For those who say the symbol of autism is wrong. You either have nobody with autism in your life or a completely wrong about the entire meaning of the symbol. The old symbol that was originally founded because it did not match anything that was in the system at the time would be right. The symbol that represents autism now or days is it correct and perfect representation of autism as it is now. As a father of an autistic child I can say this. Someone I can say this as a father of an autistic child who happens to be. The puzzle piece represented as a border peace does not represent and answer it represent an answer. I say it because when you put together a puzzle no matter it be 50 1000 2000 3000 pieces most people start with a border. Yes I said most not everyone starts with a full box of puzzle pieces or a full deck of cards. My son was the world unfortunately he did pass away. When I introduce my son I never ever ever said this is my autistic child I always introduced him as my son. for those who say the puzzle peace represents something that needs to be solved is wrong. To me it represented something of a start point not end point. Not something that need to be fixed. Not something that need to be understood. But a starting point. Where do I find this symbol of autism to be offencive no I find it to be a true and accurate depiction of what it means to have autism. For those who say it is a spectrum disorder yes but by trying to find where they fit on a spectrum is still trying to find a place where they fit do not tell me that the puzzle piece does not accurately represent autism. The rainbow infinity symbol does not work. As a proud member of lbgt Society I find it offencive. The reason being the colors of the Gay Pride flag happened to be the colors of the rainbow Infinity meaning forever. So they are lumping the two together. For those who do not find that offencive there’s something wrong with you. The blue puzzle piece is a very appropriate symbol. For those who do not see it this way I’m sorry that you do not. But as a father of an autistic child you are all wrong. I understand that some of you will find this offencive. That’s some will agree. This is my opinion and that is all that matters. For I will speak for my son who cannot speak anymore.

    • I think the opinions of Actually Autistic Individuals should outweigh Nuerotypicals. I appreciate your opinion, but I am Actually Autistic, with an Actually Autistic Teen, and we both are offended by Autism Speaks still searching to rid the world of our kind, and the puzzle piece.

      The rainbow, by the way, goes back thousands of years. It does not belong to the gay community. It offends me that the symbol of love from my God is used by the LGBT community, and you don’t allow that love symbol to be all inclusive, ie Nuerodiverse.

  17. as i see it,you buy a puzzle in a shop,it is in a box,,it may have 1000s of pieces. those pieces are shattered.and you must fit all those little pieces together,,,i have ADHD/HFA.
    I Hate it,,,,

  18. Pingback: Autism Speaks Resource Toolkit – The Outcast Post

  19. My daughter has autism and she is 6 years old. It took me to convince her pediatrician at the age of 2 that she either needed a hearing test, vision test, or that she is autistic based on my own research. Now, that’s where that “A” word stands out to me (Awareness). I like the puzzle piece and I feel it’s being looked at wrong. The piece is not signifying that children/adults on the spectrum are puzzles. Their condition is puzzling because no one symptom/condition fits all. There is no “cure,” there is no meaningful genetics testing for girls, on top of that it is suspected that a majority of boys are diagnosed with autism, but still no meaningful testing. Here I am with a beautiful, bright, and funny little girl who just happens to have autism. She doesn’t have a the vocab that a 6 year old is expected to have, it takes her a while to understand certain things, she does a lot of self talk, and echolalia, and she is very particular, and routine, but oh so unique with a lovely presence. I love my child to pieces and I am not here to figure her out, nor am I here to change her. I am here to understand her, respect who she is, value who she is, and to support her on her journey because let’s face it, the world is obviously cruel and we frequently misunderstand one another the way of the world is based on differences. Autism is diverse; there can be behavioral issues, non-behavioral, speech problems, social oddities, developmental delays, and also a real unique way of solving problems and catching details that those without autism may never figure out. The puzzle piece is the “condition” not the individuals with the “condition.”

  20. The puzzle piece. Having a teenager now with Autism I can disagree with this blog in so many ways. First, my son totally agrees on the puzzle. He does NOT like to do jigsaw puzzles, but the puzzle symbol of Autism is great. My wife has a degree in teaching and special education and also agrees on the puzzle piece. Our son was a mystery for a long time, like a puzzle with a missing piece and once we found the missing piece it completed us as a family and him. What was the missing piece for us? It was NOT that he had autism it was finding what clicked or resonated with him. His is robotics, tinkering, building. Once we found that he has now blossomed and can build a robot from scratch at the age of 13. I’m sorry you DON’T like puzzles (obvious from above). You probably don’t like watching Peter Pan either (a lot about what happens when we become an adult and lose the whole childhood fantasy/imagination thing). As for you comment above stating, ” mystery and complexity of autism”. Yes absolutely true, but it being like anything is NOT true. I work for a non-profit and volunteer and work with different kids/teens/adults with needs and the spectrum of Autism is one thing that makes it QUITE different. So, maybe you should take a step back …watch a few kids movies…even a show like “The Good Doctor” which totally resonates with my son and he can explain reasons why and maybe even sit down and do a fun
    jigsaw puzzle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s