Autistic Alex

Blogging about neurodiversity, psychology and fandom.

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

7 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/

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

  1. Reblogged this on All the finer things… and commented:
    FUCKING BULLSHIT Here’s the deal: the puzzle piece was chosen at the time because it was different from every other symbol and at the time, that was fitting–it still is. Autism is a disorder that we are learning about everyday. It’s ever changing and we don’t have all the answers. Actually the more we know the more questions we have–the more we see that there are “missing pieces”. Instead of being so damn negative, and using ‘your’ disabilities as excuses to either hate the world, or be mean, or whatever, why don’t you own your demons. Why don’t you fight that fight like so many other before you, now, and after you will. Have some freaking courage.

    • Yes, I know. I covered that in my post? That still doesn’t make it a good symbol. The national autistic society changed it in 2002 because it was acknowledged to be fucking offensive. We’re learning about lots of things every day, this isn’t unique to autism. It’s not a good reason to use the puzzle piece. There are not missing piece just because you neurotypicals can’t understand us. I’m not being negative. I’m making aloud declaration that I’m a whole person, not a puzzle. That’s not negativity, that’s not having demons. I don’t have demons, I’m happy the way I am. I don’t hate the world, I hate organisations that think I’m broken. I am fighting that fight, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Trying to reduce stigma against a disadvantaged group I’m a part of.

  2. To let you know, I feel like it is my duty to share this everywhere I can: Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, wherever. Because it’s assholes like you that I have fought my whole life. It’s jerks like you that hold back all the work and the fight that my family has fought. And my opinions on your absurdity will be shared with as many people I can reach.

  3. I like your article! It was very informative, learning about how the autistic community sees these “helping” organizations. I’m going to look up neurodiversity now. I’ve heard about the concept behind it, but I didn’t realize it was a social movement. You’ve made me curious.

    I’m sorry about the other commenters. You do seem to be very well-liked on Tumblr, or at least well-linked. I found your site from one of the autism blogs there, just scrolling through the tag. So I’m pretty sure that one guy is about to get slammed.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Thanks for your insights! I always thought the puzzle piece symbol was a good symbol, but most of the autistic population I have worked/interacted with are children, where the puzzle piece (as you mention) is more suitable. I think you are right on in your opinion that the puzzle piece indicates that you are opine how broken, incomplete, or puzzling. I certainly don’t think that of any autistic person. You are all just people. Like any other person. I have depression, and I would hate to be known by a logo, rather than just people getting to know me regardless of my disease state. Way to share your opinions. The world needs more people who speak out like you!

  5. Hi I’m sorry that the other lady was so aggressive making her point? I have always felt uncomfortable with the puzzle piece and this is the first time I’ve seen it mentioned. Thank you. My son has Autism and i’ve always felt that the symbol is negative. I do believe people don’t mean it that way e.g having tattoo’s of it symbolizing the love and support for their ASD family member. But for me I see a single puzzle piece or a picture with a puzzle piece missing. I just never got this? To me if I’m doing a puzzle and a piece is missing it’s annoying and the puzzle is no good as it’s not finished. I do not see my son in this way. I see him as totally unique. Best Wishes. Jo

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