The puzzle piece is ubiquitous. Just about everywhere you look in the autism world you see representations of it. Whether it’s a Facebook page, a support group, or a website so many people like to use it in some form or another to represent autism. The Puzzle piece. It’s everywhere. Personally I don’t like it. There are a number of reasons I don’t but mostly I think it sees me as passive not active.
The puzzle piece has negative connotations that I don’t like, it doesn’t represent me as an equal and conveys the message that I am a problem to be solved. This puzzle piece has been with us for quite a long time. It was devised by a parent in the United Kingdom, a member of what was then a small group of parents joining together to seek support for their autistic children. This group was to become The National Autistic Society, believed to be the oldest autism group to exist. At the time these parents felt it represented autism as a puzzling condition. Not only was it a puzzle piece, it also included a weeping child in the image to symbolise that autistic children struggled with their handicap. This was quite some time ago, 1962. Fifty odd years later perhaps it is time for a rethink. )For more information on its beginnings, read this post by autisticook.)
There are so many versions of the puzzle piece. Plain ones, colourful ones, artistic ones, multiple puzzles set into an awareness ribbon ones. So many different renditions. The most prominent rendition is the blue puzzle piece of Autism Speaks. And it is this rendition which makes it irredeemable for me.
If it wasn’t for Autism Speaks, perhaps I could come to terms with the use of the puzzle piece. Today, the puzzle piece is so closely associated with Autism Speaks due to their saturation of the public channels. In my view this is why the puzzle piece must be rejected. Even without the Autism Speaks connection the puzzle piece has problems.
The puzzle piece does not adequately make the distinction between autism and autistic. The result is that it is used to represent not just autism the diagnosis but autistics the people. This is not a good thing. An autistic is not a puzzle to be solved, a puzzle piece to be fitted into normality. The autistic does not have a missing piece. Even though it wasn’t the intention of the puzzle piece historically, the way Autism Speaks has presented autism to the world, autistics are seen to be a problem.
It is yet another part of the negative narrative we see from so many of the media outlets and peak autism bodies. The use of it and phrases like “lost” and ” locked away” along with “catastrophe” and “epidemic” adds to the connection of autistics as puzzles. And, we’re not.
The alternative that is used by many autistics is the infinity symbol. This is a positive symbol. It fits well with the idea of a spectrum of infinite possibilities. It is in line with the quote, “If you’ve met an autistic person then you’ve met one autistic person.” Personally I like the idea of a gold infinity symbol—Infinite possibilities of personality, function, traits, challenges, skills and potential. And gold as the first two letters of autism and autistic are Âû the chemical notation for gold. That’s why many of us are using that symbol after our names.
Perhaps we autistics are the gold of humanity. Perhaps that’s a little arrogant, but as an autistic it’s a nice thought. If the puzzle piece is something you connect with, then obviously that is your personal prerogative to use. I would encourage you to think about its connection with the negative narrative that encourages cure at any cost, that does not stand against harmful and abusive treatments, and gives a more prevalent voice to the families and allies of autistics rather than autistics themselves.
I wonder what your thoughts are on this.