Today on “What Really Grinds My Gears”: A Puzzle Piece as a Symbol for Autism


You know what really grinds my gears? The fact that the universal symbol for autism is a puzzle piece. As in this thing:


Everytime I see it, I become silently infuriated.

My original hunch as to why it’s a puzzle piece was the idea that autism was a ‘puzzle’ that needed to be solved. According to my research, which mostly affirmed my hunch, the National Autistic Society established the puzzle piece symbol in 1963. Here’s what they had to say about it:

“…the symbol of the Society should be the puzzle as this did not look like any other commercial or charitable one as far as they could discover. The puzzle piece is so effective because it tells us something about autism: our children are handicapped by a puzzling condition; this isolates them from normal human contact and therefore they do not ‘fit in’.”

Life as Leels (whatever the fuck that means) adds on:

“Since then, the interlocking, mutli-colored puzzle piece has become the international symbol of autism. Its significance has become multi-faceted. For some it represents the mystery and complexity of the disorder, for others it represents the mechanical nature of an autistics persons thought process. The bright colors are said to represent hope.” [sic]

I-CARE (d’aaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwww………) also weighs in:

“Because autism itself and its causes are so puzzling, the international symbol for autism is a puzzle piece. In order to begin to solve the autism puzzle, public awareness of the disorder is crucial.” [ed. note: there’s that lousy word again… disorder. You probably know that I don’t like that word.]

I, for one, despise the puzzle piece metaphor. For one thing, the puzzle piece is dehumanizing. It gives an air that we are simply things that are just thrown onto the list of stuff that mankind has to understand. You know what you do when you’re engaged in a puzzle? You try to solve it. Sure, you take some time to recognize the individuality of the pieces but in due course, this is still a means to an end, which, if you’ll excuse the name-dropping, philosophers such as Kant, Marx, and Fromm have considered unethical; it’s all for the sake of getting the bigger picture. There’s very little actual caring done.

At the risk of sounding like a pseudo-intellectual teenager writing a college application essay, I’m not a mystery, I’m not a puzzle that needs to be solved, I’m a person. But seriously, it’s things like the puzzle piece that make me feel like a specimen rather than a human. What do I have to do to prove my humanity, walk and talk like a neurotypical?

Also, you know what else is puzzling? Women. You know why? That’s because every individual woman is unique, like autistic people, and yet guys insist on making blanket generalizations about them, which doesn’t work. Yet you don’t see a puzzle piece symbolize women. That would be sexist. And yet when it’s used to symbolize autistic people, it’s somehow not ableist.

[Sources: Life As Leels and I-CARE, though I recommend neither of them]

6 thoughts on “Today on “What Really Grinds My Gears”: A Puzzle Piece as a Symbol for Autism

  1. Pingback: The puzzle piece – symbol for Autism ? | (autism) comics by suburp

  2. I am embarking on raising money for Autism support and I’m finding that the views in Autism are split where some embrace the puzzle piece and some do not. I am wondering what symbol would you like to see to represent Autism?

  3. As a mother of a child with autism the puzzle does not bother me because my take on the symbol is totally different when it comes to my child. A symbol is just that a symbol it what your take on it is and what it means to you. It may have started out with means that I do not agree with but today the mean for my child means something different. What symbol would you feel it should be since the puzzle upset you so much?

  4. i also have ASD. I don’t care how they explain its origin. It symbolizes many more positive things then I think they are able to explain. I did not feel like my picture was complete before I was diagnosed. It was rhe piece to fit my puzzle. I am speaking for myself when I use the P-word. But I don’t think of autism as a puzzle, just life. And we complete the picture. It has also helped me to find a simple object to symbolize my struggle wether it’s a puzzle piece, a Lego or a winged camel. I want to have a flag, a beacon, a symbol. I might be naive for being recently diagnosed. But, I like it!

  5. Pingback: I’m a Person, Not a Puzzle – Swirly Mind, Flappy Hands

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s