**MAJOR TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNING: This post links to articles which use ableist language/outdated vocabulary, and highly offensive anti-autism propaganda videos
The ubiquitous symbol for “Autism Awareness” has been the puzzle piece. The puzzle piece symbol was created by the National Autistic Society based in the UK in 1963 and it originally looked like this:
(image credit- Autism Wiki https://autism.wikia.org/wiki/Puzzle_Piece_Logo ):
That’s a weeping child, for those in the back.
Helen Green Allison, a founding member of the National Autistic Society, attributes the puzzle piece design to a parent in the then-fledgling group. In this account**, she explains:
“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.”
The puzzle piece ribbon was adopted by the (US-based) Autism Society in 1999. Autism Speaks was founded in 2005 and uses the puzzle piece as their official logo. It used to be all-blue, some speculate, because they assert that autism is more common in boys (that’s a whole other topic beyond the scope of this post). Of all the organizations related to autism, Autism Speaks is most likely the one that you’ve heard of and you might assume that whatever they’re doing is probably good for autistic people. Here’s where I’ll remind you again to please listen to autistic people before you move forward with that assumption.
Autism Speaks has, from its beginning, approached autism as a disease-to-be-cured. It’s moving at a turtle’s pace to get away from that mindset and is really only doing so due to social media pressure. The organization has put out propaganda that has served to frighten parents of young children into seeking intensive treatments or else face a lifetime of heartbreak because of autism. Here’s a video they put out that includes a mother-with her autistic daughter in the room- talking about wanting to drive off of a bridge. Here’s another one called “I am Autism” talking about how autism knows where you live and is going to bankrupt you and ruin your marriage, etc. Here’s the transcript if you, like me, can’t stand even a few seconds of it: I debated over whether to include links to these videos in this post because they’re so offensive- but I think it’s unbelievable that an organization with so much visibility would produce statements like this and it’s important that people- especially potential supporters/donors are aware of it. Many autistic people refer to Autism Speaks as a “hate group.”
So back to this puzzle piece… Imagine seeing the logo of the group that has served to misinform the general public about your identity, forcing your caregivers to subject you to ill-informed treatments… how would you feel about it? The puzzle piece is also considered to be generally infantilizing- as if autism affects only children or renders all autistic people childlike into adulthood. The puzzle piece, now, is a litmus test. Its use means an organization has not sought out the actual autistic perspective (bad)- or they are aware of it and are discounting it (worse). The symbol embraced by the autistic community and the neurodiversity movement is a rainbow infinity symbol, meant to represent the diversity of the autism spectrum(see my shirt below from Peachie Speechie🙂
Again, if you’re going to use April to support autistic people, I will ask you to please seek out #actuallyautistic perspectives by searching that hashtag. You can easily find autistic perspectives on the puzzle piece symbol by doing a quick google search, but here is one article I found that lays out the arguments against using it particularly well: altogetherautism.org.nz/autism-no-puzzle-nothing-wrong-with-us/ Here’s another one with lots more about why the puzzle piece is offensive- as well as symbolic colors to wear in support (#redinstead or gold) instead of blue: https://intheloopaboutneurodiversity.wordpress.com/2019/03/20/the-ableist-history-of-the-puzzle-piece-symbol-for-autism/