It’s ubiquitous. Just about everywhere you look in the autism world you see representations of it. Whether it’s a Facebook page a support group, a peak body so many of them like to use it in some form or another to represent themselves. The Puzzle piece. It’s everywhere. Personally I don’t like it. There are a number of reasons I don’t like it but mostly I think it sees me as passive not active. The puzzle piece has negative connotations that I don’t like, that don’t see me as an equal and that consider me a problem to be solved.
This puzzle piece has been with us for quite a long time. It was devised by a parent in the United Kingdom, a member of what was then a small group of parents grouping together to seek support for their autistic children. This group was to become The National Autistic Society, believed to be the oldest autism group to exist. At the time these parents felt it was representing of autism as a puzzling condition. Not only was it a puzzle piece though it also included a weeping child in the image to symbolise that the autistic children struggled with their handicap. This was quite some time ago, 1962. Fifty odd years later perhaps it is time for a rethink. For more information on the beginnings see this post by autisticook.
There are so many versions of the puzzle piece. Plain one, colourful one, artistic ones, multiple puzzles set into an awareness ribbon ones. So many different renditions. The most prominent rendition seen now is the blue puzzle piece of Autism Speaks. And it is this rendition which makes it irredeemable for me.
If it wasn’t for Autism Speaks use of the puzzle piece perhaps I could come to terms with it, but with the association that the puzzle piece has with Autism Speaks due to their saturation of the public channels, in my view the puzzle piece must be rejected. Even without the Autism Speaks connection the puzzle piece has problems.
The puzzle piece does not adequately make distinction between autism and autistic. The result of this is that it is used to represent not just Autism the thing but autistics the people. This is not a good thing. An autistic is not a puzzle to be solved, a puzzle piece to be fitted into normality. The autistic does not have a missing piece and there is no puzzle to be solved to understand them. Whilst this has clearly not been the intention of the puzzle piece historically thanks to its use by Autism Speaks and the way they present autism to the world it has become the case that autism and autistics are seen to be a problem.
It is yet another part of the negative narrative we see from so many of the media outlets and peak autism bodies. The use of it along with phrases like lost, locked away along with catastrophe and epidemic adds to the connection of autistics as puzzles. Again, autistics are not puzzles.
An example of how this relates and contributes to the terrible negative narrative is seen in the awful advertising video published by autism speaks:
The alternative that is used by many autistics is the infinity symbol. This is a positive symbol. It fits well with the idea of a spectrum of infinite possibility. It is in line with the idea of the cliché line “if you’ve met an autistic person then you’ve met one autistic person” Personally I like the idea of a gold infinity symbol. Infinite possibilities of personality, function, traits, challenges, skills and potential. And Gold as the first too letters of Autism and Autistic are Âû the chemical notation for Gold.
Perhaps we autistics are the gold of humanity. Perhaps that’s a little arrogant, but as an autistic it’s a nice thought.
If the puzzle piece is something you connect with, then obviously that is your personal prerogative to do so, I would encourage you to think about its connection with the negative narrative within the autism communities that encourage cure at any cost, that do not stand against harmful and abusive treatments and give a more prevalent voice to the families and allies of autistics rather than autistics themselves.
I wonder what your thoughts are on this.