Why We Don’t Use the Puzzle Piece…

We’ve all seen the well known puzzle piece image that has come to represent “Autism Awareness”.

Have you ever wondered why a puzzle piece? A quick Google search will give you the basic reason. Most agree that it represents the idea that Autism is a puzzle that people are trying to solve.  The sentiment is packaged in various politically correct sounding versions, but it basically boils down to the belief that Autism is a complex mystery that needs to be pieced together for the benefit of Autistic people. Here at Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance we’d like to disagree. Here’s why:

Autism Speaks uses a puzzle piece and the phrase “Piece by Piece” as part of their fundraising push. They then take the money they raise as a not for profit organisation and spend around 4% of it on actually supporting Autistic people and 44% of it on “research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism”. (Figures on AS financials sourced at http://autisticadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Autism_Speaks_Flyer.pdf)

Autistic people and their Allies find this offensive.

Aside from the obvious objection to wanting AS to find a cure for Autism, here are what some people have said about the puzzle piece logo.

Tim from Both Hands and a Flashlight says:

“If someone thought a puzzle piece was an accurate representation of me, I’d be pretty ticked off to put it mildly…”

“Perhaps it’s because I think the puzzle piece symbol is all about us (parents, family, friends, medical professionals, educators, researchers, etc.) and not at all about people who are autistic. I’m really starting to question whether this is not a symbol of autism but instead a symbol of our own fears and uncertainties. I wonder if we’re the ones with the missing puzzle piece and whether we’ll ever feel at peace with ourselves until we figure out where to look.” 


CS Wyatt from The Autistic Me says:

“Autistic individuals are puzzles? They are distorted, psychedelic minds? Exactly what is the message? Not that all people aren’t puzzles, but to think one group is any more puzzling is a curious claim. How does this promote understanding? The claim that we are all part of the greater puzzle… no, a puzzle is a mystery. The message to me that autism and autistic people are strange, mysterious.

I wish there were other symbols, less reductive symbols, for autism awareness. Puzzle pieces are simply offensive.”


Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

“A puzzle suggests the idea that there might be some pieces missing. Of course, such an idea is anathema to me, when applied to any person on the planet. The only way in which you could look at a person and see pieces missing is if you begin with a preconceived notion of what a person is supposed to look like. If the person doesn’t fit that preconceived picture in your mind, then you see all kinds of gaps. But if you see the person for himself or herself, and accept the person as a given, without reference to an outside standard, then the picture becomes whole. The person is simply a person, on his or her own terms—nothing more and nothing less.

“A non-autistic person says that the world of an autistic person is a puzzle. That statement is taken as objective truth by most non-autistic people. In fact, it is irrefutable evidence that the person speaking is ‘normal’ and that the person being spoken of has a ‘disorder.’ All too often, family, friends, teachers, and professionals look at the autistic person, shake their heads, and say, ‘Yes, you’re right. Poor thing. He certainly is a puzzle!’

An autistic person says that the world of neurotypical people is a puzzle. That statement is taken as a purely subjective perception by most non-autistic people. In fact, it is irrefutable evidence that the person speaking has a ‘disorder’ and that the people being spoken of are ‘normal.’ All too often, family, friends, teachers, and professionals look at the autistic person, shake their heads, and say, ‘Poor thing. He’s so impaired. He just doesn’t understand us.’”


Hopefully you are starting to understand why Autistic people find the puzzle piece offensive. If you need to read more please visit “Unpuzzled” at www.unpuzzled.net

Many people will say that “I don’t see the puzzle piece that way” and “historically it had nothing to do with Autism Speaks” or even “but I really like the puzzle piece!” – if that’s how you feel, please read this post from Judy Endow: https://ollibean.com/2014/04/04/goodnight-autism-puzzle-pieces/

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