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37 Comments

  1. Angela

    Reply

    I have a child with autism and he loves the puzzle piece symbol. Although he doesn’t like all the colors he likes the one that you can buy in blue. He doesn’t see it the way you have described he sees it as all people are different but when you get all the pieces together what a wonderful and beautiful pitcher it makes.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Thanks for the comment Angela! I have heard other people describe the puzzle piece in the same way your son does. Some other opinions are discussed in this article: http://the-art-of-autism.com/the-autism-puzzle-piece-a-symbol-of-what/

      Individuals have the right to view/interpret the puzzle piece in their own ways. I think it’s important for parents to understand all of the interpretations of the symbol to raise awareness of the best ways to support autism acceptance. I think some people take issue with the symbol because the origins of it don’t necessarily fit the interpretation you are describing. That being said, I think the image has evolved to mean much more than what it did (as you’ve shown), and many are finding ways to use the symbol to promote autism acceptance. I love your son’s interpretation. I think it’s important to share. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Angelika

      Reply

      Angela, I love the way you described your son’s perspective. Similarly, our family celebrates the gifts that my son has because of his Autism, and how unique we all are. We have only talked about the symbol once because my son asked why it was used in association with Autism when we were behind a car with the bumper sticker. His twin brother (not Autistic) piped in right away to answer him. It was really sweet, and sounded much like what your son sees it as. We have never felt the need to have anything with a puzzle piece on it, but as a parent it makes me feel good to see all the people that are supportive and aware of Autism.

      • Reply

        We see it as working together to help all individuals with autism.. Like til the last piece fits! Keep working at it til we have all the answers and understand it more piece by piece

    • Le

      Reply

      Most Autistic people hate person-first language too. Your son probably will when he’s old enough to understand. It’s true- a lot of kids DO like the puzzle-piece. The trouble is, when you’re as old as me it just seems infantalizing. And we’re still Autistic.

      • Liz S

        Reply

        I don’t understand the immaturity associated with puzzles in the article or your comment here, no disrespect intended. My grandmother and I (76,28) do thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles that take us months. We frame them. We’ve done ones where every piece fits together, and you have to find the ones that actually go together, and the final image was a maze. We’re not autistic, but I bet my son could do that puzzle in a day. His autism is something to be proud of, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take away some of his struggles if I could. I’ll keep using and sharing this symbol until we find a way to help him, not “cure” him. Would it help if the colors were different? I think there’s a lot of men that probably have an issue with a bright pink breast cancer awareness ribbon symbol…do they have these issues or do they look past it and hope that people still support the cause and the fact that men do get it? (Much like the fact that autistic people grow up just like we do).

        I find it important to mention that this is also not a stigma that is only applicable to those with special abilities. Many people, including foster children, are often “forgotten about” by the system at a very, very young age.

    • Gaki Gūru

      Reply

      I can kind of agree with the article. However, I think that can very much be interpreted, perhaps by many, as a stretch (myself included). I most certainly agree with the second and third categories.

      I don’t mind feeling like a mystery – I do see myself as an enigma. As for the whole “missing something” ordeal, I found the less than human point to be a stretch in my view.

      One thing I thought of before, is the whole thing about autists not really preferring to be alone. I do agree that a lot don’t and that it is a misconception, however, I think it would be just about as bad to assume that they don’t prefer to be alone compared to assuming that they do. That’s why I think this it is good to be open to either of the possibilities, but without assuming that they do prefer to be alone – at first. If found out whether they do, let’s say in an interaction, than that must be considered.

      Another thing is the eye contact and all that. I think it’s good to not reinforce it that much. There are hardly any cases of autists having typical adult eye contact, even as adults, whether they tried to learn it or not. Going by that, I think it would be good to spread acceptance of things like that. Plus autists can have a harder time with conversation if someone tries to place that in them – that they have to use eye contact. So with things like that and stimming, I think acceptance is good. And I would prefer a method that is not like negative reinforcement, but something more welcoming.

      I don’t mind the puzzle piece, but most other autists do.

      Feeling like an enigma, I’m fine with it. I do attribute it to my personality and all, not just autism. I do take that in consideration. I do get the autism side, though. Also, I embrace contradiction – I think contradiction has a lot to do with me – again, I attribute that to me and not just autism. Also, I do prefer to be alone, and don’t prefer socialization and all. That doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely, because I very much still do. It is not so much a social thing, though – only a little. I have felt the need to grow in variety with topics and stuff, which I’ve lacked in carrying it out – that would go with restricted interests. I do like routine and variety equally.

      Also, I feel more or less ageless when it comes to objectivity. I feel younger than I am, older than I am, and my age – whatever combination of those at different times. I don’t mind the youthful side – to me.

      When it comes to the puzzle piece and the way it applies to me – I don’t mind it for the most part. As subjective as I am, it still doesn’t resonate in ways. I guess that is partially where I would kind of mind it – on behalf of it and me.

      When it comes to being a symbol for autism, I wouldn’t go for it. Most autists dislike it. I don’t think it is good for a symbol anyway, in ways.

    • Tony R

      Reply

      The point of view that should be taken is that each piece is unique and valuable because without every piece the picture isn’t complete. My stepson has autism and I can honestly say that I have learned just as much from him as he has from me and that without him my picture wouldn’t be complete.

    • Rachael

      Reply

      When I was a kid I had wildly different beliefs to what I do now. Your views as a child are shaped very much on what you are told. As you grow, you realise that what your told can be heavily laden with bias and opinions and isn’t always the best info. Or the info you align with once you’ve heard all of the sides.

      He may never change his perspective, but he may.

      One puzzle piece on its own is a problem. What can you do with one piece? What value has it got on its own? How can you work out the picture with just one piece? – you can’t!

      Is that the message you want to send your autistic kids? Hell the colours make it clear there is no plan for a greater picture. It’s just a mess of colour. A mess and a problem. What would you do if you found one piece for a puzzle in your house without a sign of the rest of the puzzle? – you’d bin it. It has no value alone.

      Your autistic child would likely thrive from understand the perspectives here. It’s so important that he knows he is unique and awesome all on his own. That he’s not a problem for someone else to work out to make him fit. That he doesn’t need to fit.

      I’ve been learning a lot about this as I’m confident my son is Autistic. I’m nervous about diagnosis as it seems like everyone’s out to profit off these ‘puzzle’ children and try to sell you their fixes and cures, which aren’t realistic or helpful! Hell, did you know dog trainees use ABA on canines?

      My son is beautiful, and wonderful and he doesn’t need to conform to anyone else’s picture. he certainly is valuable and wonderful all on his own.

      As parents, I urge you to think on this a little longer. Read the links provided. Ponder it. Most autistic adults seem to be pretty confident about this. Please listen to them. Their voices are important.

  2. Joe Barron

    Reply

    I tend to think that we are all puzzle pieces, wandering the world, looking for a place to fit in. We all strive to connect, to fit with one another and guess being a mystery isn’t so bad, that’s why we form social connections. The element of being a problem to be solved, that had to come from somewhere in the culture, you look into the face of your child, you see nothing wrong…you see the person, not the label, and the something that is missing, isn’t that why we teach all our children to create and discover their own sense of purpose? However, my son, diagnosed at 22 months, likes many designs, he isn’t offended by the puzzle piece, but here’s a note, when he doesn’t like something, he lets me know quite forcefully.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Thanks for the comment Joe! I like your puzzle piece analogy. I agree that we all are puzzle pieces in a way. Perhaps if the image weren’t associated so tightly and exclusively with autism for so many years, more people might be able to appreciate, recognize, and identify with it more (both on and off the spectrum). You said your son likes many designs (and he let’s you know forcefully what he dislikes). I’d be interested in hearing what he has seen that he especially likes or doesn’t like.

  3. joe

    Reply

    i have autism and i dont mind. in fact on facebook i have a group called puzzle joe where i give people insight on what its like to be autistic. i give advice and tell people about my experience with autism. i like the puzzle i think its cool. i also really like the colors too.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Thanks for offering your opinion! I’ve talked to a lot of people with differing opinions. Some people like it, others are neutral, some like the symbol assuming an altered connotation, and others loathe it. Your group sounds wonderful! If you’d like to be interviewed for my blog, let me know!

    • Gaki Gūru

      Reply

      That, for some reason, reminds me of the fact that many autists like water. I would want to get out of the pool.

  4. Raymond King

    Reply

    Hi, i have a son with Autism i haven’t a clue why the puzzle piece represents Autism, if there were a preferred symbol what would it be? i am currently designing a Tattoo for what i think represents my son and his amazing world, so just curious what other ideas of symbols might be.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Thanks for the comment Raymond! Traditionally, the puzzle piece represented the confusion and mystery behind autism and how people on the spectrum appeared to be “missing” or “lacking” a fundamental part of human existence. Over the years, people have attributed a more positive message with it (that we are all different and a piece of the greater human race). Many (not all) people on the spectrum take issue with the symbol today. The most widely accepted alternative to the puzzle piece is the rainbow infinity symbol. This symbol has come to represent diversity within the autism spectrum and the larger neurodiversity movement. Many autistic self-advocates support this symbol.

  5. Reply

    As an “aspie”, I feel that it’s necessary to note that iconic statements like the Autism Puzzle Piece do not define us, but are defined /by/ us.

    The analogy of bullying comes to mind and breathes life into a concept that I think could help everyone struggling with the notion of labeling.

    A bully can tell you how worthless you are compared to him or how you’ll never amount to his stature as a human being, but it isn’t the things that he says that affect us the most. What we struggle with is how we reflect on the things being said and whether or not we can apply them with any degree of resonability, be it of the rational variety or otherwise.

    The fact is, mass beliefs are only massive because most people are willing to adhere to them. If we, as individuals, were to adopt a different perspective on the concept of the Puzzle Piece, then we’ve immediately begun to work on deconstructing the issue.

    That being said, it seems more appropriate to ask, “What does the icon mean to me?” rather than, “What does it mean to everyone else?”

    Personally, I’ve felt that there was something about me that was different from my peers and I believe that the Puzzle Piece accurately represents my own personal perspective of life.

    Like all humans, I am a puzzle piece that somehow fits into the jigsaw product of society and, like all puzzles, it can take time to find the proper place for some pieces.

    As an aspie, it’s a bitter fact that you WILL NOT fit just /anywhere/, but there’s always a place for your piece /somewhere/.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Great points Steven J. I appreciate the comment. I think many parents are careful in an effort to avoid using imagery that is offensive, hurtful, or triggering to others on the spectrum. But you offer a great reminder that not everyone dislikes this symbol and that individuals have great power developing and projecting their own personal interpretations/identifications.

  6. Reply

    For me, I don’t understand what the puzzle piece is suppose to convey which is why I don’t think it is a very good symbol for autism.
    If you look at the speeding wheelchair often used for disability awareness, it is easy to see what it means. It is someone who is active and actively moving through life despite their disability.
    But what does the puzzle mean to someone who sees it without being told what it means?
    Even things like the yin-yang are not hard to figure out without an explanation.
    Another symbol for autism that I do like is the rainbow brain. What makes autistics different is the way our brain works, and rainbow has long been recognized as a symbol of the beauty of diversity.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Thanks for the comment Alice! I too like the symbol of the rainbow brain for the reasons you’ve described. I also like that it’s an image representing celebration rather than confusion.

  7. Reply

    This puts into far more succinct verbiage that which I have been trying to convey to friends and loved ones about why this symbol is so problematic. It’s taken many years to understand what makes me ME, and seeing my existence reduced to a puzzle piece is, to put it politely, frustrating.

    My hometown football team decided this year was the year to do an “autism challenge;” granted, it’s not with erasure in mind; indeed, they partnered with a local hospital internationally known for taking care of children with nontraditional conditions, but the puzzle piece was prominent in the marketing. After the Super Bowl hype dies down, I’m writing to the organization hoping that, hearing from me as a lifelong fan with autism, they re-consider the symbolism in the future.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Thanks for the reply! I think many people are well-intentioned, but don’t take the time to carefully consider how they are advocating and remain open to changing/shaping it. Sometimes it isn’t enough to be well-intentioned and try to help. We have a responsibility to learn the best ways to help. This is sometimes tricky because not everyone believes the same things, but I think the puzzle piece has been problematic to so many that it should be treated with sensitivity and reconsidered for general use.

  8. Chet

    Reply

    I find it very offensive that anyone can think negatively about something that brings attention and awareness to Autism, so many people don’t understand and some don’t even know what Autism is, if a puzzle piece gets even one person’s attention and asking questions to learn what it means and what it’s about I find that to be positive, to me Autism is my own personal puzzle piece because I went most of my life undiagnosed and it was the diagnosis that completed me in the sense that I finally understood different aspects of my life and I’m more comfortable with what makes me “different but not less” , I find it appalling that people have to knock something that is so positive to so many, it’s not required for all with a form of Autism to use the symbol or anything of the sort, but if anyone wants to use it, identify with it or otherwise let them!

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Thanks for your insight! I think the point to remember is that for many years the puzzle piece has been widely used to represent something offensive (to some, NOT all). I think anyone who is autistic has the right to interpret the symbol how they like and decide whether or not to use it. I don’t think neurotypicals have the right to force their own interpretation on the autistic community. And perhaps an alternative symbol could unite the sides?

  9. Emmanuel

    Reply

    Symbols are always open to interpretation and we can never truly make everyone happy.

    The symbol should stay and the viewer should be allowed the freedom to let it speak to them.

    Being a parent with a recently diagnosed child after 17 years of struggling to understand and watching their child go through the same struggle. To me the piece represents a puzzle solved. Anyone that has completed a complex puzzle can agree they felt some form of pride, elation and “triumph”.

    Did having the diagnosis “cure” or change the situation. No. But a huge weight has been removed from our family and now we can work together to live in harmony with autism.

    This may seem weird to most and everything stated above is from personal experience and opinion.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Thanks for the comment. I haven’t heard this particular interpretation (viewing the puzzle piece as the final piece to a puzzle that led to a diagnosis). I appreciate your input!

    • Gaki Gūru

      Reply

      I think that is part of the problem – neurotypicals forcing an interpretation. Autism can be hard to interpret, in which I prefer subjectivity – I think that should be embraced more. That has to do with why I don’t mind the mystery idea. But I can kind of see why many would dislike the symbol. I did always find that kind of weird. I do have some experiences with it that are kind of “out-of-the-way”. For one, some autists would prefer to be accepted as normal. I wouldn’t like to be considered normal.

  10. Andrea

    Reply

    Interesting article but it lost credibility with me when you used the phrase autistic people over and over. They are people with autism not the other way around.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for your comment! At the bottom of the homepage there is a note that explains this website uses identity-first, rather than person-first language. This is a deliberate decision out of respect for the preferences of the many people interviewed in this blog. Exceptions occur only when an interviewee has a preference for person-first language. Of course, different people have different identity preferences, so it is my goal to use whichever language matches the preference of the person on the spectrum with whom I am communicating. I’ve found the vast majority of autistic advocates prefer identity-first language (and actually take offense with the insistence on using person-first language). It is out of respect for this preference that the default on this website is identity-first language. However, I can’t determine anyone else’s identity preference, which is why in personal communication, I strive to use whatever language is preferred by that person. I hope this makes sense. This article is a great resource for understanding the debate over this language: https://autisticadvocacy.org/about-asan/identity-first-language/

  11. Pingback: Celebrating Neurodiversity | The PediaBlog

  12. Reply

    I feel that the view you are presenting is purely subjective. I see the puzzle piece as symbolizing:
    1) Autistics are each unique and should be approached as individuals, not as a condition.
    2) Relationships with autistics are examples of the beauty of connecting, not superficially, but with meaning and purpose.
    3) Autistics are bold representations of the true complexity of all meaningful relationships and life. Autistics model for us that relationships require patience and thought.
    4) Autistics will not just accept anything. They want to be where they fit perfectly, where they are accepted perfectly.

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Hi Allen, Thanks for the comment! Yes, this is definitely a subjective issue. The main takeaway from this article should be to shed light that not EVERYONE is on board with the puzzle piece symbol (or identify with it in the positive ways you are describing). For many years many people have been using the symbol with a complete lack of awareness that it has a negative connotation for some. I think it’s important to recognize a variety of different meanings the symbol can have and respect the Autistic individuals preference to either identify with the symbol or reject it. Neurotypicals can’t force the issue one way or the other. I really like the meanings you’ve listed. Thanks!

  13. Greg Slocum

    Reply

    My daughter is a special ed teacher. One of her students was assigned an essay in his health class to write about a disease or condition, and to follow a template of questions. He chose to write about his condition, being located somewhere on the spectrum. Some of the questions and his answers –
    Q: What are the symptoms? A: Some people on the autism spectrum can have extreme attention to detail, ability to focus intensely, and occasional need to pause or step back due to over stimulation.
    Q: What is the cure? A: There is no cure, nor does there need to be.
    Q: If there is no cure, what is the treatment? See above, there doesn’t need to be.
    Q: What is the cause? A: There is no known cause, so get your kid vaccinated, Karen.

    Being on the spectrum, doesn’t mean not having a sense of humor. My daughter and I both appreciate this from our own different places on the spectrum, and neither of us feels that something is missing. Still, I don’t really find the puzzle piece offensive, but I can see how some might.

  14. Reply

    I understand your perspective. I think anything can be viewed from different perspectives. My perspective of the puzzle symbol is that as a parent of an autistic child, the usual expectations and development milestones are the puzzle but as the pieces of the puzzle are gathered a beautiful picture is formed, unique and colourful with the ability to see the world differently and show others beauty that often goes unseen because we are too busy and not mindful of the detail in life.

  15. Reply

    The puzzle piece represents life unworthy of life and better off dead than disabled. The debate on the puzzle piece being used and seeing parents say their child loves the piece tells me they are not connected to autistic community, culture and history. It’s like watching people who haven’t been affected by the ugly of this hate symbol battling over their right to use it according to their personal feelings on the matter. This is a hate symbol and the continued use of it, and defense of the use of it is incredibly disrespectful and insulting. If the puzzle piece symbol in community or learning spaces is the first I know that this space is not for me or my autistic children. The hate symbol is a part of the ‘autism community’ not the Autistic community. We need not cured (eugenics) and we’re not better off dead than disabled (eugenics again). We are worthy of life, a place in community and we do contribute meaningfully to society. We also light it up gold for a better future for all autistics born today too. Parents of Autistic children, please show respect and cease use of this symbol. You can’t change the meaning of this symbol because you feel differently about it — you aren’t the one who has suffered under it’s use. You’re recreation of the meaning doesn’t in fact change the actual meaning and it doesn’t change my ugly experience of it – nor my kids. If you don’t understand how ugly and deep eugenics gets pushed on Autistic people as a cure – or understand how we’re perceived as ‘burden the world can’t afford’ (eugenics talk regardless of how you spin it) go look up AKTION T4 and note why we Autistics are fighting so greatly to protect and guard the generation of Autistics being born today. They are worthy of far better than this symbol.

  16. Lori Gauthier

    Reply

    Ok. I understand your sentiment about the puzzle piece and get that it is not a very accurate nor acceptable symbol.
    Your post however, has left me confused and a little irritated. I understand everyone has their own opinion and the right to such but your post sounds like you’re just complaining. Although rightfully so, it sounds like just a complain. A “Karen” attitude, if you will. It would have been more helpful if you would have possibly ended with an idea of a solution. A replacement, and your justification for such.
    As a mom of 4, 3 of which have ASD, I see the puzzle piece in a different context. I see it as a the missing piece of neurotypicals and also as a question to answer. But I guess it all depends on how you look at ASD & puzzles to begin with I guess. You see, in my family, Autism makes you special. My children have always been taught that their uniqueness is to be celebrated. And in my family we love puzzles and riddles. It’s not about solving the problem its about the things you learn along the way. Doing puzzles in my family is a team effort and is rarely completed alone.
    With that being said, as I mentioned before, I get where you are coming from with this symbol and would hate to offend others by using it. So what would you rather society use instead?

    • Jenna

      Reply

      Hi Lori, thanks for your reply! Yes, a great alternative to the puzzle piece is the neurodiversity infinity symbol. Just search Google for it and you’ll be able to find lots of references. Many people on the spectrum I have talked to have said they prefer this symbol, so that is what I support. As you mentioned, different people view the puzzle piece symbol in different ways, so this is important to be sensitive of, but I’ve read so many accounts of how triggering it can be, that I try to avoid it and use the neurodiversity infinity symbol instead.

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