A heated debate has been going on for some time now. It concerns a symbol that has been around for a while. The symbol seems to be everywhere these days; on key chains, shirts, cars, coffee cups, websites, and advertisements. While the symbol is extremely offensive to some, it is viewed as positive and respectful by others. The debate, which shows no sign of letting up, involves individuals, groups, and organizations.
No, I am not talking about the Confederate flag. Nor am I referring to the Washington Redskins logo or Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians. Rather, the debate focuses on a puzzle piece, the symbol for autism and autism acceptance that has been in existence since 1963.
Initially, the puzzle piece seemed to make sense. In 1963, the National Autistic Society in London adopted this logo, using the logic that autistic people suffered from a puzzling, mysterious condition. Furthermore, puzzles can be complex and every piece is distinct. Later, Autism Speaks popularized the puzzle piece logo in this country.
Over the years, many parents of autistic children have voiced their support of the logo. For instance, Marge says, “I really like the puzzle. To me it does perfectly symbolize all the different ways our individual kids fit together.” …It symbolizes how there’s no one therapy that works for everyone and sometimes it’s a whole puzzle of therapies that work.” Sally adds, “I love the puzzle piece…It’s part of a unit.” Unity, as she sees it, means “coming together.”
Erin, who’s autistic, likes the puzzle piece and reminds us that everyone on the spectrum is “unique” and they all have “their own way of fitting in.” But others, including many with autism, feel strongly that the autism logo is demeaning. They argue that autistic people are mysterious because neurotypicals, or people without autism, don’t really take the time or make the effort to understand and get to know them. Andrew, who is autistic, points out that autistic people are “not missing anything.” And they “do fit in.” April chimes in, “I’m not a mystery.”
Now, a research study in the journal Autism suggests that critics of puzzle-piece imagery may be onto something. Researchers found that puzzle pieces in general symbolize something negative to the public. According to the study, “Participants associated puzzle pieces with imperfection, incompletion, uncertainty, difficulty, the state of being unsolved, and, most poignantly, being missing.”
As someone who is not autistic, I can pretty much ignore this debate if I want to. But by doing so, I miss out on an opportunity to learn more about my son and my blindspots as a neurotypical. Can a single symbol adequately represent such a diverse population? Does this symbol increase autism awareness and acceptance, or does it simply reinforce the idea that autistic people are different and need to be solved or made whole? Honestly, I’m not sure. But it is important to raise the issue and listen to all sides, especially the autistic population.
Please note: I am currently writing a book about my entire family and how we have grown over the years, in large part because of Jimmy. My son Jimmy is a middle-aged adult on the autism spectrum. The voices and perspectives of my two daughters and wife as well as other friends of Jimmy are included throughout. It is a real, uplifting, and remarkable story; one which I have wanted to share for a long time. The book will be published later this year.
Visit https://www.facebook.com/DiversityConsciousness/ to read current articles and view insightful videos relative to Diversity Consciousness.