The Problem with Puzzle Piece Symbolism
Everyone knows the puzzle piece symbol, the symbol most commonly used to signify autism, but it isn’t as well known just how many Autistic adults dislike it. At first glance, you see the lone puzzle piece or even a bunch together in what looks like a puzzle and it almost reads like ‘everything is okay in the end’ which is pretty good except:
The puzzle piece originated in in the 1960’s by a parent for National Autistic Society (formerly The Society for Autistic Children) in London. The design came from a father of an autistic child, and it was a puzzle piece with a crying child to represent how the board of this organization found autism to be “a puzzling condition.” The child is weeping because it was also believed that these children were suffering. This of course was a good time ago when knowledge of autism was a lot more scarce than it is nowadays, so the “puzzling disorder” was not as well understood. The puzzle piece itself (without the weeping child) sort of made sense back then, since autism was not well understood. Now, though, it’s a different story.
Autism Speaks (or AS), an extremely controversial organization, later adopted this blue puzzle piece, in the shape of a person. Along with their slogans “Until all the pieces fit together” and “Together we will find the missing piece of the puzzle” this is a huge part of why autistic adults have rejected the puzzle piece. Seeing puzzle piece symbolism invokes PTSD and anxiety symptoms in many autistic adults from the abuse and misinformation that Autism Speaks promotes. This specific puzzle piece is outright stated to mean that we aren’t whole. That autistic people are broken in some way or missing a piece. Not only this, but since they specifically chose a puzzle piece in the shape of a person to make the connection that autism makes somebody a puzzle. AS chose the color blue because “a majority of children with autism are boys” which is another falsity. While statistically right now, ¾ children diagnosed are male, however more research is being done on how autism presents in girls. It has regularly been said that women and girls are severely underdiagnosed because of differences in presentation and doctors seeing autism as a “boys disorder.” Not only is AS supporting seeing us as incomplete, broken, or missing pieces, but it is also ignoring a large portion of autistic people with their choice of color alone.
This ribbon and the various other forms of the puzzle pattern are also wildly popular, especially among parents of autistic kids. Their bright colors are supposed to be representative of diversity. The puzzle piece itself, though, comes across like the Autism Speaks meaning however, after all of their aggressive “awareness.” These are liked because of the many different designs and ways you can make a design, and have the same overall meaning (autism) portrayed. The bright colors come across very childish, which makes it easier for people to forget that autistic adults exist too. There is a lot of problems that arise because people seem to see autism as a “childhood disease” or autistic adults as “basically eternal children anyway” A good amount of these images even say things like “putting the puzzle together one piece at a time” and other similar slogans.
The above images are what the autistic community have been mostly using as our pride/acceptance symbol. The rainbow mobius represents the spectrum and the infinity that it is and always has been a part of who we are. By getting rid of our autism, you not only get rid of who we are, but also a necessary diversity of human brains and thinking (neurodiversity) that is needed for change and difference in society.
I’m a person, not a puzzle. We are not broken or missing pieces. We are whole and valuable human beings, just like everyone else.