Advocacy, Special Needs, Special Needs Parenting

Is the puzzle piece offensive?

The question is often asked, is the puzzle piece offensive? As an autism momma, I had never put that much thought into it. It was a symbol that represented one of my child’s many diagnosis. Most diagnosis’ have ribbons or symbols that are known around the world. So, to me that is just what the puzzle piece was.

History of the Puzzle Piece

The puzzle piece was first used in 1963 when the London Nation Autistic Society created a logo with a puzzle piece and a crying child. The organization liked the puzzle piece because they felt it explained the diagnosis. Their children were suffering from a puzzling disorder, and they needed to solve the puzzle.

1963 National Autistic Society Logo

Over the years the puzzle piece became well know as the symbol for Autism. Most large Autism organizations including, Autism Speaks, and the Autism Society. With a rise in frustration we are left to wonder if it is time for the symbol to change.

Autistics Speak out against the Puzzle Piece

On social media it is no secret that people on the spectrum view the puzzle piece as offensive, as many advocate for the use of the infinity symbol instead. I must admit, when I first heard about this I was a bit taken back. I was confused as to how it was any different than all of the ribbons and symbols that other organizations use to represent their disorders or illnesses.

Infinity symbol preferred by many on the spectrum

I decided to do a little research of my own. When I placed a poll on an Autism Parenting page called “Mothers of Autism” asking if they feel the puzzle piece is offensive, I found that of 104 people who responded to the survey only 12 found the puzzle piece offensive. So, why such a hot topic?

Well, the answers lie within the Autism community itself. Self-advocates are making their voices heard, speaking out against the use of the puzzle piece. Many refer to it as demeaning, and feel that it symbolizes they are incomplete, and missing a piece.

I think that many parents view it just the way that I always had. A symbol that represents the mystery behind their child. That represents a puzzling diagnosis. But, the advocate in me must look at it from an Autistic persons point of view. How would I feel if I was being placed into the category of the missing piece of the puzzle? If individuals on the spectrum find it offensive, and are asking for change, then what are we waiting for?

Why are we dismissing self advocacy?

Per a conversation that I had with an autism parent, Silke Lesch Mueller, who happens to be on the spectrum herself, it is clear that these feelings of dismissal are very real.

What is being forgotten is that this is that we adults and teens on the spectrum have spoken out against the puzzle piece manifold but keep getting patronizing and dismissive answers in return.”

Silke Lesch Mueller

As a parent, teacher, family member or friend, we want nothing more that for someone to be able to advocate for themselves. So, if the Autism community is doing just that, why are we not listening? Why are those of us who are not diagnosed giving such push back on something that is so offensive to the community that we “support”. This is not about us. It is about our children, our students, or family members and our friends. They can and are advocating for change. Maybe it is time we listen.

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