Ableism And The Autism Puzzle Piece An Autistics Perspective
Joanne was in banking but found herself a square peg in a round hole in the corporate world. After discovering she was autistic, certain struggles became more understandable. She moved into a career in teaching before starting to write full time. Here she explores the history of the Autism Puzzle Piece, whilst offering an inside perspective on what the symbol means for autistic people today. There are many facets to being autistic, including the language and symbolism used for the purpose of identification, representation and advocation the most well known one being the autism puzzle piece. In order to stay informed on the affairs affecting the autism community, and be the best advocate possible, it is important to understand the history behind the language and symbolism used to address them.
The symbol of the puzzle piece to represent people on the autism spectrum has a long and troubled past, from when it was first created.
Why? To understand this, you have to first understand where the symbol came from and the meaning attached to it.
The Debate Over Puzzle Piece Imagery For Autism
Common lore traces the use of puzzle pieces to represent autism to the United Kingdom. In 1963, the logo of a weeping child superimposed on a puzzle piece was created by a parent-member of the National Autistic Society. Another parent-member later related that 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 .
In current day, the US state of Pennsylvanias Bureau of Autism Services claims that the puzzle piece the international symbol for autism because the puzzle piece conveys the mystery still surrounding this condition . The US state of Alaskas Special Education Service Agency claims that puzzle pieces continue to represent autism because of the many years parents and professionals alike have been baffled by this disorder .
Numerous autistic persons have objected to the use of puzzle pieces to represent autism and autistic people. For example, Yergeau writes in the journal College English:
Puzzle pieces symbolize so much of what is wrong with popular autism discourserepresenting autistic people as puzzling, mysterious, less-than-human entities who are short a few cognitive pieces, who are utterly self-contained, disconnected, and need to fit in .
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The Meaning Of The Colors
The design of the ribbon which is inspired by jigsaw puzzles represents the complexity and the mystery of autism. The condition is not easily defined within set terms and definitions. It tells people that even though the disorder is not easy to understand, it is worth understanding and spending time on for the sake of those who have it it. It is a rallying point for people who want to bring the attention of other people to autism.
The different shapes and colors represent the diversity of people who are dealing with autism whether they are autistic or they are the family members of someone with autism. Other people who are not dealing directly with the disorder are also represented in this jigsaw puzzle design. Itâs a condition that affects all of us, hence the interconnected puzzle pieces of different colors and shapes.
The colors used are bright and basic, which symbolizes hope for defeating the disorder. It fuels the will of people in researching treatments for the disorder and in spreading awareness about the disorder. It is all about inspiring people to care about the cause or at least be aware that the disorder exists.
Why Is The National Symbol For Autism A Puzzle Piece
If you have spent anytime in the autism community, you have likely seen the puzzle piece that is the accepted symbol of autism and the ally community. The puzzle piece is not limited to one community or a branded symbol of one organization. Instead it signifies several major things unique to ASD and its a rallying point for the loved ones, family and friends of those that have autism. However, many people dont really know why the puzzle piece is the recognized symbol. There are also those in the autism community that dislike the symbol and its usage. Its important to examine why its used as the widely recognized symbol for autism and what the puzzle piece means to the Lexington Services staff.
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Wrist Puzzle Piece Tat
A puzzle piece wrist tattoo is also a nice idea not just because the wrist is a popular spot for tattoos. Rather, it is also nice to have because it is exposed. This means you can get to see it all day which will remind you of someone that the tattoo represents.
An outline of a puzzle piece placed on the left wrist
This one, on the other hand, is placed o the right wrist and has a thicker outline
This puzzle piece wrist tattoo has a small heart on its upper right corner
This combination of a puzzle piece and heart tattoos has realistic details that make it look like its floating
A colorful puzzle piece tattoo
A blue ink puzzle piece tattoo paired with a word tattoo that reads hope
Matching puzzle piece tattoos with watercolor details
A simple outline tattoo of a puzzle piece at the center of the wrist area
Jigsaw puzzle pieces in red, blue, and yellow ink etched on the left wrist
Matching outline tattoos on the side of the wrist
A tattoo of Stitch holding a balloon made of colorful puzzle pieces placed on the upper part of the arm
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Whats Wrong With The Autism Puzzle Piece Logo
Although the Puzzle Piece was never intended to be insulting, its quite clear from this first design that, by today standards, it is.
- Depicting autism as something that only children get
- Portraying a child as upset because of the condition
- Using a shade of green which can only be described vomit green
In fact, there are few redeeming factors about the Puzzle Pieces introduction to the world which can be salvaged .
Further complications arise, regarding the Puzzle Piece debate when, not long after its inception, pro Puzzle Piecers began misinterpreting the logos message and made claims that it reflects how autism isolates from normal human contact and therefore they do not fit in.
You would think that would be enough to put the final nail in poor Gassons original idea but things only got worse for the Puzzle Piece logo. It was swiftly adopted by the only thing within the autistic community that is more controversial than the Puzzle Piece logo itself: Autism Speaks.
I Love A Child With Autism
I Love a Child with Autism is a retail business run by the mom of a child on the spectrum. It sells everything from t-shirts to magnets. The business owner uses the proceeds to allow her to care for her son, and she also donates to several autism charities. The puzzle piece is part of the business logo, and most of the merchandise features a single puzzle piece or a rainbow puzzle pattern.
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The Problem With The Autism Puzzle Piece
One of the easiest ways to connect a person to a cause is through symbols. We see them everywhere the peace sign, the raised fist representing Black Lives Matter, the pink ribbons representing breast cancer. When used correctly, a logo and the emotions it can create can help draw someone into a cause and stand as something to fight for and stand behind.
This Friday is World Autism Awareness Day, a day to celebrate those that make up the broad nature of the autism spectrum. Perhaps the most worldwide symbol of autism is that of a puzzle piece. Whether it is the blue puzzle piece belonging to Autism Speaks, or the interlocking puzzle piece ribbon of the Autism Society of America, some of the largest autism organizations in the world still use the puzzle piece. This is despite the clear and evident anger it has caused so many in the autistic community.
The puzzle piece was first used as the symbol for autism spectrum disorder in 1963 by the National Autistic Society in the United Kingdom. The symbol stemmed from the idea that autism was a puzzling condition. The original image showed a crying child inside a puzzle piece to represent the sadness of the burden that autism was considered to put on a child and familys life.
Not all of these flaws can be solely placed on the back of the puzzle piece symbol, but it reinforces them. It creates a world where autism is something to be aware of when a person is age 0 through 17 and then forgotten about once they turn 18.
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What Is Meant By Im Not A Puzzle Piece
- I am a human I have no missing parts. I dont need to be put together or fixed. Even people with autism who display very little functional behavior are still people and need not be corrected. Let them be trained, yes. Get treated, yes. But having a disability doesnt make you less than a human being, even if that disability means you cant express your personality very well.
- The mystery of autism is no deeper than the mystery of any other disorder whose mechanism we do not yet fully understand. . This is not enough to justify the use of puzzle pieces to symbolize autism.
- A communication barrier between a person with autism and a person without autism means that the thoughts of a person with autism are generally unknown. In other words, there is no such thing as a puzzle for a person without autism. These thoughts not only lead to uncertainty as to the unknown but also support the unknowable and increase the pain. Filling the void requires more effort from both sides, but it can be done. When they dont understand you in a foreign country, it doesnt mean you are mysterious and incomprehensible. Although others may think you are like this. Every behavior shown there makes sense. Even screaming is a way of communication. Even in a totally nonverbal way one understands what warmth and comfort mean.
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A Problem That Needs To Be Solved
This symbol also suggests that, like a puzzle, autism can be viewed as a problem that needs to be solved. This perpetuates the idea that there is something wrong with Autistic identity. Many Autistics like to make distinctions between speaking negatively about autism itself and speaking negatively about specific symptoms . Its frustrating and discouraging to live your life as if the world thinks there is something wrong with you .
Puzzle Piece Love Tattoo
A puzzle piece tattoo can also be used to express your love for someone with or without autism. Whether this is a best friend or a partner, the idea of this tattoo is about you two fitting together like two puzzle pieces. Like the puzzle, one person will not be complete without the other which makes it a nice way to represent a bond between two people.
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An outline tattoo of a puzzle piece behind the ear
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Autism Speaks Puzzle Piece Project
The Autism Speaks Puzzle Piece Project uses the single puzzle piece symbol to teach autism awareness in schools. It’s designed to act as a springboard for conversation about autism and to increase awareness about ASD among peers of kids on the spectrum. The project “tool kit” includes a template for making puzzle pieces that kids can then decorate and combine to create a larger design.
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The New Autism Speaks In Action
As we roll out our new Autism Speaks, look for bolder, brighter colors across Autism Speaks platforms, and even more stories of people with autism, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, being told. In fact, you can check out some of the most recent stories at autismspeaks.org/profile, which is regularly updated with new news from our community.
And while our mission remains the same, we invite you to re-download and get reacquainted with our work through some of our most commonly-accessed materials:
The Autism Puzzle Piece: A Symbol Thats Going To Stay Or Go
As language evolves, so do symbols.
The origins of the puzzle piece, the primary symbol for autism, go back to 1963. It was created by Gerald Gasson, a parent and board member for the National Autistic Society in London. The board believed autistic people suffered from a puzzling condition. They adopted the logo because it didnt look like any other image used for charitable or commercial use. Included with the puzzle piece was an image of a weeping child. The weeping child was used as a reminder that Autistic people suffer from their condition.
When I researched, I was reminded how far weve come in our use of language to describe people with developmental disabilities. In the 1960s people with developmental disabilities were referred to as mentally handicapped. People with cerebral palsy were called spastics. The label autistic wasnt commonly accepted. Children with autism were thought to be psychotic and were diagnosed as having childhood schizophrenia. Autism was blamed on refrigerator mothers.
To the National Autistic Societys credit, theyve evolved and dont use that image anymore. This is their new image.
I decided to do an informal survey of my friends on Facebook about the puzzle piece logo. Should it stay? Should it go? What would you replace it with?
I received over 100 responses. Some people emailed me off-list. As usual the responses I received were intelligent and thought provoking.
Then there were a big group of people who opposed the symbol.
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What Is The Puzzle Piece And Where Does It Come From
The puzzle piece symbol was first used in 1963 by the National Autistic Society, in a logo which depicted the image of a crying child in the centre of the piece. The supposed aim of the image was to symbolise how people with autism suffer from a puzzling condition and are unable to fit in.
Although now no longer used by the National Autistic Society, the puzzle piece has since been adopted by other organisations, the most notorious of all being Autism Speaks.