Autism puzzle (A brief guide)

In this blog, we will discuss what the autism puzzle is and what it means, the controversy and divided opinions around the use of the puzzle piece to represent autism. 

The autism puzzle: what is it?

The autism puzzle ribbon is a trademark of the Autism Society and was adopted in 1999 as the universal sign of autism awareness.

However, they have granted permission to other charitable and non-profit organizations as a way of demonstrating unity and advance a universal mission as opposed to an individual promotion of a single organization.

The puzzle pattern of the Autism Awareness Ribbon reflects the complexity of the Autism  Spectrum and the colors and shapes represent the diversity of the peoples and families that live with the condition.

Additionally, the brightness signals the hope of increased awareness about the condition and also hoping for appropriate access to services and support for early intervention.

Therefore, with the idea of helping people with autism live their lives to the fullest and for them to be able to interact with the world around them in their own terms.

This symbol is the most iconic and recognized within the autism community worldwide, however, there is a diversity of opinions about what it is meant to represent.

The autism society invites people to their social media to express what the puzzle ribbon means to you, for example, some have said that the ribbon represents:

  • That they not alone.
  • That the part of the great puzzle of life.
  • That they may confuse people and may not stand a chance to ever fit in.
  • That the condition itself is a puzzle that needs to be addressed on many fronts to completion, parents, siblings, family, friends and even teachers/therapists are presented with a puzzle of how to work and understand people with autism in pursuit of empowering them to be as independent as possible.

Conflicting opinions from parents about what the ribbon represents is understood as being misunderstood and lonely or they just feel the same as when looking at a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness or a rainbow sticker for gay pride. 

According to Debra Muzikar from The Art Of Autism, the puzzle piece has its origin back in 1963, created by Gerald Gasson a parent and board member for the National Autistic Society (now called The Society for Autistic Children) in London. 

The logo was adopted primarily because it didn’t resemble any other image that was being used for charitable or commercial use.

Additionally, the logo included a weeping child inside of the puzzle piece used as a reminder of what people with Autism have to go through and their suffering. 

She actually took the time to survey her facebook friends about whether the puzzle piece represents autism or if it should get changed.

Conflicting opinions of people understanding the puzzle piece as part of a whole and others as isolating, generating more stereotypes around autism and trying to make them “fit” into a world that considers autism as a mistery we are meant to solve. 

Does the puzzle piece actually evoke negative associations?

A study published in 2017 titled “Do puzzle pieces and autism puzzle piece logos evoke negative associations?”, tried to empirically investigate whether puzzle pieces evoke negative associations in the general public.

They included 400 participants and the negative associations were measured with an implicit association task.

They found that “Participants explicitly associated puzzle pieces, even generic puzzle pieces, with incompleteness, imperfection, and oddity”.

Indicating that if the intention of an organization is to evoke positive associations then their results suggest that puzzle-piece imagery should be avoided.

Puzzle pieces cause great discomfort among the autism community, they have become pervasive symbols and since merchandising keeps expanding from t-shirts, car magnets, smartphone cases, and even designer jewelry. 

Additionally, research and media titles have also contributed to implying that there is a “missing piece” or incomplete when talking about autism referring constantly to the puzzle piece. 

For instance, titles such as “Finding the Missing Puzzle Piece of Autism”, “Missing Piece Surfaces in the Puzzle of Autism”, “The Puzzling Life of Autistic Toddlers” or “Another Piece of the Autism Puzzle” keep perpetuating how the puzzle piece can evoke negative associations. 

This is why the puzzle piece to depict autism causes such discomfort since people associate it with needing to fit in or something is wrong with them, some even saying it is dehumanizing and offensive, “disconnecting” people with autism them from rest of the world. 

As an example, the Autism Journal has decided to move away from using the puzzle piece as a symbol of developmental disorder after they published the study that shows how this symbol evokes negative connotations.

They decided to replace the puzzle piece with a design that features several circles. 

Additionally, the National Autistic Society has also decided not to use the image anymore and have changed their logo.

However, other organizations such as Autism Speaks differs and sustains the usage of the logo stating that:

 “The blue Autism Speaks puzzle piece has had a huge influence on raising awareness of autism around the world, which is why we believe it is still a worthy and effective logo. It represents the search for answers that will lead to greater understanding and acceptance of people on the autism spectrum, their diverse challenges, abilities, and strengths.” (Disabilityscoop.com)

What is wrong with the logo?

As we discussed previously, this logo was adopted with the idea of illustrating visually the “puzzling” nature of autism, not to represent people as incomplete or with the idea of being a mystery to the world.

However, there is still an ongoing debate about whether the autism puzzle piece is supposed to represent this “puzzling” nature or if it is actually giving the wrong impression about the condition.  

Even though it wasn’t meant to cause controversy it is often perceived by people with autism and their families as the missing piece that doesn’t fit within the puzzle or a mystery that needs to be solved or how isolating it can become for people living with the condition. 

Additionally, the choice of colors (green and black) was not accepted by many and the child weeping in the center of the piece could only evoke a feeling of sadness, suffering on the own and being completely misunderstood by the world around them. 

Still, we have to talk about the fact that even though they get to change the logo in the future to make it more inclusive of the ideas posted everywhere on the internet, it is very hard to make people agree and to have a consensus on how they would like to logo to be in the end. 

Opinions on the puzzle piece

Debra Muzikar from “The Art of Autism” decided to do an informal survey on facebook among her friends about the puzzle piece logo and she actually received over 100 responses.

Some other people actually emailed her off-list with their thoughts and opinions about it.

Here are some of the comments and thoughts she received about this matter:

Maria Hall, a parent posted:  “My son is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma . . . I love the puzzle piece.”

Sally Verduzco, also a parent posted:  “I love the puzzle piece . . . It’s part of a unit. Together all of us in our own reality and ways, place each puzzle in the right place to create a unit. Unity coming together. Many pieces as one.”

However, there was a big group of people whose opinions indicated that were against the use of the puzzle piece such as:

Jane Straus stated that “the puzzle piece is far more applicable in my opinion to NTs (neurotypicals), who seem to expect us to guess what they are thinking. It is inaccurate, in its assumption of boy-blue, and its assumption that we are so impossible to understand. Those of us who can communicate in a way that normals understand are so simple and direct in what we say, that if they would just pay attention we would be not a puzzle at all.”

Lori Shayew stated: “I’m not a fan of the puzzle piece. I feel it’s demeaning to autistic people. I like the infinity sign or heart better . . . something Autism represents.”

Why is this blog about the autism puzzle important?

There is an ongoing debate on how using the puzzle piece to depict autism can actually evoke negative connotations towards people with autism.

However, the puzzle piece is used in so many forms and merchandising that it keeps increasing the popularity and perpetuating the use of this symbol. 

Even though a few years ago the logo was born under a different concept, it is the puzzle piece itself that has such negative connotations among people.

Is it time for a new logo? Probably it is, but with the number of different opinions in regards to what should the symbol be then, it makes it really hard to reach consensus. 

Probably, if there was some kind of survey or a contest where people affected with autism and their families could participate from then there could be a possibility of consenting to replace the old logo with a more appropriate and representing one. 

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about autism puzzle

What does the puzzle piece mean in autism?

The puzzle piece is meant to reflect the complexity of the autism spectrum and the colors and shapes the diversity of people living with the condition and their families.

However, it also has had a negative effect on people evoking feelings of being incomplete or needing to fit into the world. 

What are the colors for autism?

The color of autism is meant to be blue and many people use it on April 2nd for the Wolrd Autism Awareness Day. 

Is there a symbol for autism?

The symbol used for autism is the Autism Awareness Ribbon Puzzle pattern trademark of the Autism Society to represent the complexity of the condition and the diversity of people living with autism.

What are the 5 different types of autism?

In the previous version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there was a category termed Pervasive Developmental Disorders, where the following were included: Autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, Rett’s syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). 

However, the newest version of the DSM removed them and changed the term for Autism Spectrum Disorders as an umbrella of conditions that vary in presentation and severity. 

Why is autism blue?

It has been said that during the 2017’s World Autism Awareness Day so many people wanted many different colors and the message got mixed, leaving the color blue to avoid confusion. 

Recommended links

References 

Autism Society

The Art of Autism

Autistic and unapologetic

Autism Journal Abandons Puzzle Piece

Disabilityscoop.com

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