Why You Need To Stop Using The Puzzle Piece To Represent Autistic People
I hate the puzzle piece. I hate it with every fiber of my being. Therefore, since in a lot of places its national autism awareness month, Im going to write about why you shouldnt use the puzzle piece.
First a little history on the puzzle piece. It was originally a national autistic society symbol. Its history is documented here , towards the end of the piece, but the important bits regarding the puzzle piece are quoted lower down here. .
That first logo was this.
A disembodied weeping head on a puzzle piece.
The Committee decided that the symbol of the Society should be the puzzle as this did not look like any other commercial or charitable one as far as they could discover. It first appeared on our stationary and then on our newsletter in April 1963. Our Society was the first autistic society in the world and our puzzle piece has, as far as I know, been adopted by all the autistic societies which have followed, many of which in their early days turned to us for information and advice.
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. The suggestion of a weeping child is a reminder that autistic people do indeed suffer from their handicap.
Image is of a ribbon with small puzzle pieces in bright, primary colours.
A rainbow hued infinity symbol.
The Puzzle Piece Symbol Still Receives Mixed Reactions
Though many people affected by autism love the puzzle ribbon, its started to receive mixed reviews over the years, with people claiming its outdated and misleading. One woman, going only by her first name, Kathleen, wrote in to The Art of Autism saying, I am not in favor of a puzzle piece that holds the intention that people on the spectrum are confused or incomplete.
Michael Leventhal agreed, saying, While the original intent of the puzzle piece was positive, it no longer represents the goals of advocacy. Yesterday autism was a mystery. Today, while efforts continue into autisms etiology, the main focus is on applying what we have learned to make society and institutions more responsive to changes that lead to improved life and outcomes for autistic individuals and their families. Highlighting this shift in focus warrants a newer symbol one of cooperation and sharing.
However, many people still believe the puzzle logo stands for positivity and inclusion. Savana Rose, a parent to a child with autism, said, I really like the puzzle. To me, it does perfectly symbolize all the different ways that our individual kids fit together
More Than A Logo: How Puzzle Piece Imagery Perpetuates Stigma And Hate Towards Autistic People
Image courtesy of Sarah Salles via Pixabay.
Think of autism, especially autism awareness and autism charities, and you probably think of the puzzle piece symbol – a shape that has become ubiquitous with autism and is said to symbolise the complexity and intricacy of individuals on the autism spectrum. Seems perfectly innocent, right? Well, what if I told you that this symbol does more harm than good?
2nd April marks World Autism Awareness Day, a day recognised globally, with the intention of raising and spreading awareness of autism and the challenges autistic people face. In recent years, this day has been met with unease by the autistic community, as many people and organisations share differing images, information, and perceptions of autism and what it means to be autistic.
This can leave many people, both autistic and allistic , feeling conflicted in what to share, who to support, and how best to be an ally to the autistic community.
If you choose to engage in autism awareness you are likely to encounter the puzzle piece on everything from organisations branding to autism awareness merchandise, such as t-shirts and keyrings. But what does this symbol really represent and what impact does it have on the autistic community?
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The History Of The Autism Puzzle Piece Ribbon
With Autism Awareness Month ending just days ago, youve probably seen a good deal of t-shirts, Facebook posts, and bumper stickers donning a colorful puzzle piece ribbon recently. But while youve seen it many times over the past month, do you truly know what the ribbon stands for?
Carry On The Conversation
What do you think should replace the Puzzle Piece logo? Or are you happy how things are currently? Let me know in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow this linkto a collection of responses from the autistic community on the Puzzle Piece logo from Art Of Autism its one which I used when researching for this article and it will help to offer more perspective.
As always, I can also be found on Twitter: and via my email: .
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Thank you for reading and I will see you next Saturday for more thoughts from across the spectrum.
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The Inception Of The Autism Puzzle Piece
History hasnt treated people on the autism spectrum too kindly. Although autism as we know it was only described in the 1960s in the UK, this doesnt mean autism is a modern condition. What we now understand as autistic traits would have been misclassified, misdiagnosed, and misunderstood for millennia before the differences in the way our minds worked began to be understood.
In the 1960s a group of parents of autistic children gathered in London to form the Autistic Childrens Aid Society, which would go on to become the National Autistic Society. The group was set up to raise awareness of autism.
The puzzle piece logo started here with the organisation and was designed to show that autism was puzzling to parents, with a crying child in the middle to show us theyre suffering. There are a couple of things that should trouble us about this inception story.
Why I No Longer Use The Puzzle Piece In My Jewelry Creations
The puzzle piece is becoming more and more stigmatized in the autistic community, and I completely understand why. As the symbol becomes more known to originally representsomething missing from autistics, the more the autistic community is rejecting its use.
By Baylie Nixon
Its been too long since Ive written my last article. In addition to the chaos befalling the world right now, a lot has happened in my own life too. I am finally finished with school, board certified to practice medical technology, and ready to enter the workforce. I am now officially a board member of the Autism Society of Oregon.
What is most relevant to this article, is that I did a major audit of my merchandise because Ive decided to no longer use the puzzle piece in my work.
Even the Autism Society of Oregon is replacing its usage with the rainbow infinity. To me, thats huge.
Id go into more detail as to why thats huge, but I think thats for another article. For this blog entry, I want to stick to why Im not using the puzzle piece anymore, why it took me as long as it did to not use it, and why I actually dont feel that upset with people who still do.
I used the puzzle piece for as long as I did because developed a special connection to the symbol long ago, as early as middle school. Before the knowledge of the history of the puzzle piece became as prominent as it is today, I took it to mean that we are diverse and meant to have our own way of fitting in.
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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:
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.
A combination of puzzle pieces, lock, and key tattoos placed on the wrist
Infinity sign, love, and puzzle piece tattoos combined
An outline tattoo of a puzzle piece behind the ear
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The Puzzle Piece Vs Infinity Symbol What To Use To Represent Autism
Though the design may seem innocuous, the meaning of the puzzle piece can be harmful to the autistic community.
This article has been hard for me to write so Ive tried to get the ball rolling from a few different angles. Theres the nothing but the facts angle where I could introduce the origins of the puzzle piece and the infinity symbol, letting the facts speak for themselves. Theres the experience angle where I share my personal opinions of these symbols as an autistic adult. Theres also a completely different angle, where I could dive into the significance of symbolism and how it plays a huge factor in our society symbolisms role in our society is why Im writing this article in the first place.
With each draft, Im left unsatisfied with the result. This issue has the same underlying cause as most other problems the autistic community faces: We are silenced constantly. And Im not talking about allistic caretakers, doctors or teachers who work with autistic people. Im talking about the voices of those who are actually autistic voices that are regularly silenced in conversations where they should be centered.
The Puzzle Piece Ribbon
The version of the Autism puzzle piece you see most often today is the Puzzle Piece Ribbon created by the Autism Society in 1999. With its different colors and combinations, for some, it better represents the diversity of people living on the autistic spectrum. Ribbons are also popular choices for other well-known causes, like the pink ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness.
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The Problem With The Autism Puzzle Piece
Image from asipages.com in an article explaining what the puzzle piece means.
For years, Autistic people have been condemning the use of the colorful jigsaw puzzle piece that stands as an international symbol for autism awareness. But their voices havent been able to overpower the media push to use the symbol. Its everywhere: on clothing, keychains, coffee mugs, license plates, organization logos and promotional materials. Many families use the logo to advertise autism awareness, their personal connection to autism, or their commitment to finding a cure. The symbol was designed to represent the complexity of autism and how little is known about it. On the surface, it seems like a memorable and harmless advocacy symbol. But I dont buy anything with a puzzle piece on it because of how many Autistics have condemned the use of this symbol. Certainly not ALL Autistics condemn the puzzle piece however, its important for neurotypicals to note that its not that some Autistic people dont like itits that they are deeply offended by it, and many NTs are unaware. As NTs, it is less important with how we interpret the puzzle piece, and critically important how the Autistic people in our lives perceive it.
The symbol of a bright, colorful, puzzle piece signifies:
History Of Autism Spectrum Disorder In Canada
It was not until shortly following the Second World War that children with ASD were first seen for diagnosis and treatment in Canada. Universal health care,which was introduced across the country from the 1950s to the 1970s, allowed families to access diagnostic and treatment services for ASD more readily, regardless of their income level. This was a significant step in supporting this population. Dr. MiladaHavelkova at the West End CrÃ¨che in Toronto, Ontario, was the first clinician in Canada to diagnose and treat childrenwith ASD. She was also the first child psychiatrist in Canada to seek a better understanding of the causes of ASD through research. She published several influential papers on autismduring her 30-year career at the clinic.
Diagnosis of ASD and other pervasive developmental disorders has steadily increased in Canada since their addition to the DSM-III in 1980, despite significant confusion between the terms autism, PDD and PDD-NOS among health professionals andthe public. In 1987, the DSM-III-R broadened the criteria for autism. This further increased in the number of children who received a diagnosis of autism or PDD-NOS.
Throughout the 1990s, autism researchers focused on the molecular genetics of autism, as well as developing reliable and valid diagnostic tools. With the rising rates of ASD, researchersalso explored the contribution of environmental risk exposures to the development of autism.
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The Story Of Puzzle Piece
The puzzle piece was first used as a symbol of autism in 1963. This symbol was designed by Gerald Gasson, a board member of the Autistic Children Association . Geralds being both a board member and a parent of individuals with autism made it easier for the symbol to be accepted.
The representation of the puzzle piece to the situations of individuals with autism was effective in designing, creating, and selecting the symbol. The situations of individuals with autism are also full of unknowns like puzzle pieces. The problems experienced by individuals with autism were also assumed as astonishing, just like the astonishment given to us when each puzzle piece was placed in its place.
This symbol has also been found suitable for use by autism organizations. It was used for the first time, it had never been used for any other purpose before, and most importantly, it was unlike a symbol used for commercial purposes.
The puzzle piece was not what it looks like when it was first designed. When it was first used, there was a profile of a crying child in the puzzle piece. This profile has been used to represent the suffering of individuals with autism over their differences. This symbol was used because of the desire to fit the individuals with autism who cannot fully adapt to their environment due to the differences in their brains into society as if it were a puzzle piece.
Autism And The Puzzle Piece
The term Autism is frequently used in modern society, but due to the complexities of ASD, many are not sure precisely what Autism Spectrum Disorder is. Research is uncovering more information all of the time about the condition. The CDC has this definition on their webpage:
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives others need less.
What does ASD look like? That is a complicating aspect of the spectrum. While some with ASD may be apparent, others you may never know. Some with ASD may be socially challenged, unable to speak or interact, and need significant attention. Others function as professionals working beside you daily or even as your boss. Every persons ASD profile is unique. Regardless of their place on the spectrum, those with ASD add a special aspect to the lives they contact.
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Is The Infinity Symbol Better
Yes, and Ill explain why. As our understanding of autism has evolved, weve learned that its a spectrum of completely different needs and experiences for each autistic individual. People in the autistic community dont see themselves as having any missing pieces or being too puzzling to fit into society. After all, I dont think its much of a stretch to say that a puzzle piece symbol reflects how were a problem to solve instead of people who just want to be accepted and understood.
Still, its important to note that no autistic individual can speak for everyone. Lori Trigg responded to Sparrow with a contrasting take: Im autistic and I LOVE the puzzle piece . It makes more sense than infinity. I only take issue with the blue puzzle piece because it is a symbol for autism speaks, which is a horrid organization that seeks to cure autism and views it as a burden and noose around the neck of caregivers.