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Autism Awareness Month: The History and Meaning of the Autism Puzzle Piece

autism-awareness-month

April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to promote a better understanding of autism and to bring people together to offer better support for those living on the autism spectrum and their families. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) “refers to a group of complex neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction.”

Signs and symptoms of ASD include having difficulty making eye contact with people and becoming overly focused on an object, and trouble with verbal skills. Social interaction and communication is also more difficult for adults and children living with autism. They have trouble understanding and talking about feelings, both their own and others.

For most people on the autistic spectrum, symptoms develop in early childhood and affect their daily functioning throughout their whole life. The intensity of symptoms and level of disability varies widely with some children and adults with ASD able to function independently while others need substantial help to perform basic daily living activities.

As awareness of this condition has grown, you have probably gotten used to seeing the Autism Puzzle Piece pop up on social media and in educational campaigns. The Autism Puzzle Piece has a long history as a symbol in the Autism community, but do you truly know its history and meaning?

Origins of the Puzzle Piece

The first use of the Autism Puzzle Piece was in 1963. Gerald Gasson, a parent and board member for the National Autistic Society in London created a logo for the organization that consisted of a puzzle piece along with the image of a crying child. Because of the uniqueness of the puzzle piece as a logo, it was quickly adopted and since then the puzzle piece has become a recognizable symbol for autism across the world.

A Controversial Choice

The Autism puzzle piece, however, has stirred some controversy. Depending how its meaning is interpreted, the logo has drawn both positive and negative reactions over the years. Today the National Autistic Society logo is no longer the puzzle piece.

Those who support the use of the puzzle piece as a symbol of autism believe that it accurately represents the puzzling nature of the condition and how even today when we have a better understanding of autism than we did in the 60s, there is still much more to know.

For others, the puzzle piece symbolizes everyone coming together to support those living with autism.

On the flip side though, there are those who find the puzzle piece insulting. They believe that the puzzle piece has a negative connotation of people living with autism, suggesting that they are a mystery to figure out, lacking in some way and that they don’t fit in with the rest of society.

Then there are voices in the middle who believe that the original purpose of the logo was positive, but that it is time for a new one that focuses more on coming together to improve the lives of people living on the spectrum.

The Puzzle Piece Ribbon

The version of the Autism puzzle piece you see most often today is the Puzzle Piece Ribbon created by the Autism Society in 1999. With its different colors and combinations, for some, it better represents the diversity of people living on the autistic spectrum. Ribbons are also popular choices for other well-known causes, like the pink ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness.

No Real Consensus

The debate on the appropriateness of the puzzle piece as a symbol for Autism is still going strong and no real consensus has been made on whether it should stay or if a new one should be created. What is clear though is that the meaning behind the symbol still elicits strong reactions, both positive and negative.

National Autism Awareness Month

The Autism Society held the first National Autism Awareness Month in April of 1970 and it has been a little more than a decade since the United Nations General Assembly also created a World Autism Awareness Day. This year’s World Autism Awareness Day is Tuesday, April 2, 2019, with this year’s theme being “Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination”. On this day and throughout the month of April there will be fundraisers, walks and hands-on activities to promote awareness and a better understanding of life on the autism spectrum. Check with your local autism organization for a list of activities and events near you.

Today about 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism, highlighting the need to do everything we can to offer better support for people living with autism and their families.

At Chaps Pit Beef, we strongly believe in being a strong community member so we are holding a special promotion to celebrate National Autism Awareness Month. Solve the #ChapsSandwichPuzzle & Win a Chaps # GiftCard! Visit our Facebook page for more details and to enter.

17 responses to “Autism Awareness Month: The History and Meaning of the Autism Puzzle Piece”

  1. Tiffani B. says:

    My son has autism but he’s a great kiddo and I wouldn’t trade him for the world !!!! I love him unconditionally and I know for SURE he loves me too ????????????????????

  2. Maxfield Sparrow says:

    There’s only “no consensus” when you look at what everyone is saying. If you only ask Autistic people, over 80% want to get rid of the puzzle piece. We choose to represent ourselves with an infinity symbol: rainbow-colored for Neurodiversity or golden for autism.

    • Lo'ri Trigg says:

      I’m autistic and I LOVE the puzzle piece( just not blue). It makes more sense than infinity.
      I only take issue with the blue puzzle pc because it is a symbol for autism speaks, which is a horrid organization that seeks to cure autism and views it as a burden and noose around the neck of caregivers.
      Autism is a gift, not a curse.
      Thank goodness we have autistic
      (genius)people in history? Or else where would we be???

      • David Lindsey says:

        Agree, the ASD puzzle piece symbol was therapeutic to me upon first entering the world of Autism when my daughter was first diagnosed. I was lost and terrified,but when I saw that the puzzle piece was the symbol it revealed to me that I am not alone. My daughter is a prodigy and I thought would be soaring through school but is now in special education. I was indeed puzzled at how this all could be and how such a genius in other areas was unable to do menial things like learn to tie her shoes. The puzzle piece represented this perfectly and gave me the feeling I was not alone.

    • Thomas says:

      Maxfield,

      This is Thomas. I was the only person with autism involved in creating the puzzle piece ribbon. I just want to point out that there are over 7,000,000 people with autism in this country alone. For you to say you know what over 80% of them think would mean you personally know what over 5,600,000 people with autism in the US think of the puzzle piece.

      So you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe you. Because no one anywhere knows what that many people with autism think about anything. We should, and we need to find a way to make that happen, but for now, we don’t.

      That said, the puzzle piece is still the only officially recognized symbol for autism. But you are free use whatever symbol you want. And so is everyone else. Or they can use none at all if they prefer. To my way of thinking, we need to be focused more on things like education, employment, housing, and health care. Things that will actually make a positive difference in the lives of others with autism.

      • Raye says:

        “The puzzle piece is the officially recognized symbol” by whom? Neurotypical-ran organizations? Making decisions with little to no autistic input? Why should we consider their word on a symbol more important than how we feel about it personally? We’re the ones it’s meant to represent.

  3. Emma P. says:

    There has been a study on the connotations of the puzzle piece, and the result was that it mostly draws negative feelings towards autistics in those looking at it.

    Also I want to add that, even though the discussion is still going on, there IS a new symbol already that is widely used by the autistic community: the golden infinity symbol, as gold is “Au” on the periodic table. Heavily used is also the general neurodiversity logo: a rainbow infinity sympol.

  4. Debra W. says:

    My grandson is autistic and he’s the most loveable, caring, sweet child, and he fits in just fine with society just like anybody else.
    Doesn’t everybody have something wrong with them?
    Yes, because no one is perfect!
    I thought they had the puzzle pieces because of how intelligent they are putting puzzles together.
    I love ???? my grandson to the moon and beyond, he’s my precious little prince ????
    I thank you respectfully for your time in reading this.
    Have a good day.
    Debra W.

  5. Nicole says:

    My sons are autistic and LOVE the puzzle pieces.

  6. Jocelyn Santos says:

    MY SON IS AUTISTIC AND I DONT HAVE ANY PROBLEM WITH THE SIMBOL NOT EVERYONE SEE IT WRONG. IM SO PROUD OF MY SON BECAUSE PUTING TOGETHER THINGS HE LERND HOW TO DO A LOT OF STUFF, MY SON LERND FASTER THAT MY OLDES THAS WAS 6 MONTH PRIMATURE.

  7. Hope says:

    As with everything in our world today another symbol that recognizes and draws attention to something people need to understand and be aware of is being scrutinized. When this was created it was a big puzzle to all, it’s still very much a puzzle. It’s something people need to be aware of. I’m sure the people who don’t like it would not of been diagnosed with autism back then.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hope, how do you know whether we would have been diagnosed as autistic back then or not? You don’t know any of us and it’s incredibly dismissive for you to try to silence us just because you don’t think we’re a specific flavor of autistic or “not autistic enough” for you.

      The initial symbol was created to suggest that we’re missing a piece of ourselves or not whole people. That’s okay with you? Yikes.

      • Kelly says:

        Because up until 2013, “Autism,” known as Autism Disorder was what we now call Level 3 Autism. It’s those so greatly impacted that they can need care 24 hours a day for the rest of their lives.

        It was 2013 when what most now are diagnosed as became part of Autism Spectrum Disorders and the vast majority screaming about hating the puzzle piece wouldn’t have been diagnosed as Autism prior to 2013.

        Also, the purpose of the puzzle piece can be found anywhere and it was because Autism was a puzzling disorder. It had nothing to do with the individuals that were severely impacted by it.

      • Ginny says:

        You are not autistic enough. Puzzle pieces symbolize that so much is unknown. Putting the pieces together to solve issues that autism brings up. How about autistic people who cannot talk, can’t care for themselves, can’t socialize or hurt themselves. We should not try to solve that? It’s a puzzle and I want it out together so that people with what I feel is the “flavor” of autism have a chance at a meaningful life.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Lori, are you saying that all autistic people are geniuses? Or are you saying thank goodness for autistic people as long as they are geniuses? Either way, your statements come off as problematic and ableist.

    Not all autistic people are geniuses; most are not. Just as most non-autistic people aren’t. Being of average intelligence or being intellectually disabled doesn’t mean someone is less valued, though. So thank goodness for them, as well.

  9. Ginny says:

    I think it is horrible how many people are saying they have autism just because they are a little different. Just stop. It diminishes the people who do need help. It makes it seem as if autism is no big deal. A spectrum? Seriously, it makes it so that awareness people with autism want doesn’t exist as people think it is no big deal. Well it is a big deal. My kids are trapped and cannot communicate. I’m sure they do not embrace their autism. They are frustrated and act out. They have SIB. Would anyone want that? I do not embrace autism. I want it eradicated. If you say you want sutism then you are not autistic.

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