Puzzle Pieces Representing Autism

I heard from a parent of a child with autism (or the parent of an autistic child, depending on your preference for phrasing) who was tired of only seeing puzzle pieces everywhere representing the topic of autism. Puzzle pieces on ribbons. Puzzle pieces on news stories. Puzzle pieces on t-shirts. They didn’t feel their child is a puzzle. They felt their child is a wonderful, delightful little human being just the way they are.

I get it. Really, I do. It’s hard to have anything complicated reduced down to one symbol.

I feel it’s a great stride that we can even have this discussion. It wasn’t that long ago that few if any people even knew what autism and asperger’s were all about. It was hard even starting a conversation about it. Even the few doctors who knew about the diagnosis would blame it on “refrigerator moms” and bad parenting.

So if our problem nowadays is that it is TOO well known and people think the symbol is imperfect, that’s a wonderful problem to have!

Think about breast cancer survivors. Everything about breast cancer is PINK. Pink, pink, pink. Many breast cancer survivors hate pink! They hate that pink is the color chosen to represent their situation. They hate being surrounded by all that pink. A portion of them hate that pink represents, to many people, little girls, while breast cancer survivors can be men. They feel the pink makes it even harder for male breast cancer survivors to be related to.

Every symbol is going to be imperfect. It has to be, especially with something as complicated as autism. As the saying goes, if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism. Every single person is wholly unique. Every set of symptoms is wholly unique. There’s no way to coherently show that in one easy-to-use symbol.

I think the puzzle pieces does a reasonable job of showing that we are all unique, different, with our unique DNA and life experience. Even so, we can all connect together if we try to form a wonderfully uplifting whole. We all belong. We are all part of a community.

And the symbol is only the very beginning of a long, important conversation about how each of us matters immensely.

What do you think? Are puzzle pieces a good way to represent autism? Or would another symbol be better?

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