Every April has been intense since learning I was Autistic at the age of twenty-nine. I’ve been shifting more of my focus into my educational work and focusing on re-educating workplaces on Autistic and NeuroDivergent inclusion, so this April has been one of the most trying so far.
April is a hard time to be an Autistic person on the internet because it’s historically been a month dedicated to those who feel that having an Autistic loved one has made their lives harder. Many of these caregivers seem to resent the Autistic humans they care for.
Awareness campaigns have been historically driven to promote fear of whatever they try to make someone aware of… in the instance of Autism Awareness, fear and stigma of Autistic People and having Autistic children, dehumanizes and harms Autistic people.
Many non-Autistic people, seeking a remedy to rid the world of Autism, are emboldened to speak up in April to share how “Autism has impacted or touched their lives.” This drowns out and silences Autistic people on Autism related issues.
I can’t wait for May and leave April behind us, though the debates between Autistics and non-Autistic people on Autism related issues will likely continue.
“One of the issues I repeatedly see on social media is what symbols we should use when representing Autistic people. Is it the puzzle piece? The rainbow infinity? The Gold Infinity?”
Frequently when you ask someone who’s not Autistic, they will suggest a blue puzzle piece, a symbol rejected widely by the majority of Autistic people. I see it all the time in Facebook groups.
A non-Autistic Parent will share some new puzzle piece thing they are super proud of, like a T-shirt, necklace, or puzzle-themed tattoo. Then an Autistic person will speak out and politely mention the problems with the puzzle piece logo as a symbol for Autistic people.
For some reason, that I as an Autistic Person struggle to understand, non-Autistic parents often love and embrace the puzzle, saying that it perfectly describes their family’s experience of Autism – and may speak over Autistic adults on the issue.
Frequently the Autistic Person is dismissed as overly sensitive, and told it is the family’s personal choice to use it. I’ve even seen these things escalate to an Autistic person being blocked, muted, and removed from conversations on this issue. They may even be called names like snowflake.
I witnessed one parent complaining that the “PC Police (Politically Correct Police) are coming for everyone, ruining an innocent symbol that means a lot to their family.”
“So, what’s the problem? Are Autistic people too sensitive? What’s so bad about a puzzle piece? It’s kind of cute, right?”
When we talk about the puzzle piece logo, many people will think of the blue, Autism Speaks puzzle piece logo that implied Autism was a boy’s condition. Many people don’t realize the original puzzle piece logo was created by a parent of an Autistic child in 1963 for the National Autistic Society.
This first puzzle logo was WAY worse than today’s blue puzzle logo because it included a weeping child’s cartoon image, meant to symbolize the “puzzling condition” Autistic people were thought to be suffering from.
I do want to note that NAS no longer uses this offensive logo and has switched to something much more neutral – without puzzles.
“In all their forms, puzzle logos are still tied to the gloom and doom, fear-based narratives around Autistic people.”
Our existence is not tragic, but many of us see these logos as reminders that the world is constantly asking us to “FIT INTO” its broken systems. Instead of flexing to accommodate NeuroDivergent and Autistic people, we are expected to do all the stretching.
I feel strongly that the puzzle piece is a symbol of hatred and fear against Autistic people. To me, it is forever tainted by its history and can never be washed clean, made into something positive.
Though, I am just ONE Autistic person. What do other Autistic people think about this symbol?
I ask Twitter:
How do you feel about the puzzle piece logo as a representation for Autistic people? Bonus question Why?
I dislike it for what it stands for in the autistic community but I have to admit once I discovered I was autistic it felt like the puzzle that has been my life fell into place, all the pieces of me that once felt broken and scattered suddenly seemed whole. | Aleysun Van der Mallie, @snailtails1
I don’t hate it but I don’t like it either. Since there’s so many people in the community who don’t want to use it, it’s not well-done symbolism. Like if I think about a logo for a community and most of the ppl don’t want to use it, the designers failed a crucial part: listening. | @metalisko
First of all, it was decided on by allistics for us, which makes it already problematic. Second, it represents an organization that doesn’t want us to exist. Last, I’m not missing a piece. | Claire Adams, @Songibal
Eugenics issues aside, it comes off as very childish and ignores that there are adults with ASDs. ASDs do not go away with age, and seeking a diagnosis as an adult is so difficult that it almost isn’t even worth it. | Zach, @zpopo15
I don’t feel like I have missing pieces. Neither am I a puzzle to be solved. Nor a piece to be moulded to fit the NT world. I like the infinity symbol. We’re here, we were always here & always will be. | Cat Salt @AutisticTchr
It’s often paired with primary colours, infantilising autistic people and perpetuating the myth that only children can be autistic. Plus the missing piece crap and the history of its use. It was a benign symbol but no longer is. | @ChaosCastleUK
Every interpretation of the symbol is nasty. We’re people, not puzzles to solve. We don’t have a piece missing either. | Gwen Nelson, Co-founder of Aspies for Freedom, @gwennelsonuk
I wouldn’t mind it if it was intended to mean something positive, like that we’re the piece NTs were missing. I don’t like where it came from and what they meant by assigning it to us. That’s just offensive and reprehensible. | Cheryl Sahawneh
I have mixed feelings. When I was diagnosed just under three years ago, it did feel as if another puzzle piece had been added to my self-understanding. However, it was a puzzle piece to complete a puzzle. So to represent autism as a brain with a puzzle piece missing is offensive. | Morgan King, @morganconstant9
Dislike it because nothing is missing. I consider being traumatized and isolated more appropriate for a puzzle piece, because it closely aligns to my own experience and self-reflection; my inner dialogue. Being othered can cause trauma, but that is not the inherent state. | Trako, @TrakoZG
I always associate it with the A$ crowd and those parents of neurodivergent kids who think they’re a burden and how it’s a “disease” Was the mindset of a lot of teachers I had to put up with, pretty much associated with trauma at this point | Marissa, @keybug55
I liked it for like three seconds when I first found out I was autistic – bc it felt like a revelation, a final puzzle piece that allowed me to understand myself and my entire life up to that point. Then I found out how and by whom the puzzle piece is actually used and vomit face emoji | Tony V., @tony_valiendo