This blog post will be slightly different from my other autism acceptance blogs. In this blog post, I will be talking about the use of the puzzle piece when it comes to autism, and I appreciate that this will be a completely new topic for many people reading this. When you think about autism in the context of autism awareness, the first thing that probably crosses your mind is the puzzle piece (as shown below). At first glance, you may think that this symbol is perfectly innocent. However, this symbol actually does more harm than good in the autistic community, and in this blog post I will talk about why this is the case.
A disclaimer that all views below are my own, and I do appreciate that other people will have different views to me, which is totally fine.
In terms of the history of the puzzle piece, it was first used by the National Autistic Society in 1963. This was in a logo which showed an image of a crying child, which was used as a reminder that people on the autistic spectrum suffer as a result of being on the spectrum. As time went on, the puzzle piece was predominantly used by Autism Speaks. Unfortunately, what Autism Speaks stands for and some of the campaigns that they have run have been extremely negative and troubling for people on the autistic spectrum. One such example was in 2006, where they released a film called “Autism Every Day”. The film was essentially an attack on people with autism, in particular it also featured the organisations leader at the time talking about killing herself and her autistic daughter via driving off a bridge.
The previous paragraph clearly shows that the puzzle piece has been previously used by an organisation that essentially create stigma about autism. This implies that the puzzle piece represents a perspective which increases discrimination of autistic people in society. It acts as a reminder of an organisation that framed autism negatively rather than positively, and as a disease similar to cancer. One thing people on the autistic spectrum really want (myself included) is a focus towards autism acceptance rather than merely autism awareness. Therefore, using the puzzle piece in any context is essentially a big barrier when it comes to working towards autism acceptance.
Even if you take away the history of how the puzzle piece has been used, the puzzle piece is still problematic. For me, when I think of a puzzle, I associate it with a problem that needs to be solved. In this context, this implies that the autistic spectrum is some sort of problem. The word problem has negative connotations attached to it. There is a very clear distinction between speaking about some of the specific problems that people on the autistic spectrum face (e.g. adjusting to change), and referring to the autistic spectrum as a whole as a problem. It’s incredibly frustrating to continuously feel that the world thinks there is something wrong with you and that you are a problem just because of who you are).
A popular and more accepted symbol among the autistic community is the rainbow infinity symbol. What I really like about this symbol is that it represents endless and infinite opportunities for people on the autistic spectrum. I also like the rainbow colour, as it highlights quite nicely the wide spectrum that is autism, just like how rainbows are a spectrum of light. The rainbow colour also represents diversity and variety within individuals within the autistic spectrum. Unlike the puzzle piece, the rainbow infinity symbol portrays autism in a positive way
Symbols do have meaning behind them, and in this context, it is no different. Working towards autism acceptance also includes portraying the autism spectrum in a positive way and acknowledging the diversity within the spectrum, rather than just being aware that autism exists. Using symbols that portray autism positively goes a long way when it comes to autism acceptance. Whilst you don’t need to have in-depth knowledge of the different symbols that have to be used to portray autism, it is important to be aware of it.