A reader of our Facebook page sent us this message on Feb 11th:
“…I really wish you didn’t have puzzle pieces in your logo, though. Equating Autistic people with puzzle pieces dehumanizes us and places all the blame for communication difficulties on us when communication is always a two-way enterprise.”
Later that same day, we sent the reader this reply:
Sorry you feel that way, but this is the very first time we have heard about any objections to the use of the puzzle pieces. As we understand it, the puzzle pieces were first used by Autism Speaks, and have been picked up as a universally-accepted symbol for the ASD community in one form or another. As we want to be easily identified as an ASD-related support organization, the logo has worked well for us until something better comes along. Have any suggestions?
The reader then responded:
“No, the puzzle piece symbol is much older than Autism Speaks and is often used in degrading ways, like showing a puzzle piece shaped hunk missing from someone’s head or brain. It also puts all the burden on us by saying that we are the confusing, mysterious puzzles when you folks are just as mysterious and confusing to us but we don’t blame you, we just keep working to understand you and often feel we aren’t being met half-way because when we are puzzles and you are normal, we are the ones who are told to work harder.
I always figured the word “autism” is a pretty clear signal that a group is supporting and working with Autistics and autism issues, but maybe using words is a little too direct for your organization?”
Another reader had this to say:
“The puzzle piece is deeply offensive to many of us in the neurodiversity movement (google “we are people, not puzzles” for more on this. Groups like ASAN have issued coherent statements on the problems inherent in this way of portraying autistic people also). It would be greatly appreciated if you would consider changing this logo in solidarity.”
These comments raised our curiosity, as we had never encountered this supposed controversy before, so we did some research on the history of the puzzle piece as the symbol for autism. We discovered some interesting facts that showed that while both commenters were correct to some degree, they were perhaps a bit to aggressive in the assertion that the puzzle piece is “deeply offensive to many…,” as no real proof of this opinion was offered.
[Editor’s Note: The neurodiversity movement mentioned above is another controversial issue that we plan to address in the near future.]
History of the Puzzle Piece as the Symbol of AutismThe puzzle piece symbol was first created in 1963 as the logo for the National Autistic Society (NAS.) This first NAS logo was designed by a parent member of the Executive Committee, Gerald Gasson.
On their website, NAS explains that “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’.”While this comment may seem degrading or insulting to some people today, it was a pretty radical and forward-thinking position for 1963. Don’t forget, segregation was still the law of the land; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still a year away from becoming law.
Since then, according to Team Autism 24/7, “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 autistic person’s thought process. The bright colors are said to represent hope.”
The Puzzle RibbonThe puzzle ribbon logo was first used as the universal sign of autism awareness in 1999 as a trademark of the Autism Society. The organization has allowed other non-profits to use the design “in order to demonstrate unity and advance a universal mission as opposed to any individually held interests or promotion of a single organization.”
According to the Autism Society’s website, “The puzzle pattern reflects the complexity of the autism spectrum. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope — hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and access to appropriate services/supports, people with autism will lead full lives able to interact with the world on the own terms.”
The Autism Society of America states that “the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is the most enduring and recognized symbol of the autism community in the world. Yet, views about the iconic marker are as diverse and wide-ranging as the spectrum it represents.” When the organization posted the question “What does the puzzle ribbon mean to you?” on Facebook this past January, the answers they received were “intriguing.” While the responses fell on both sides of issue, it seems to us that the majority of respondents understood and accepted the original meaning and intent behind the symbol, and did not seem to have a problem with the puzzle piece logo. Responses included:
- That I am not alone.
- That I am part of the great puzzle of life.
- It means that I am a major confusion to people and stand no chance to ever fit in.
- Multiple meanings…The condition itself is a puzzle which needs to be addressed on many fronts to completion; and that persons with this condition are puzzled by our “normal” ; and we as parents, siblings, family, friends, teachers/therapists, and the general public are presented with the puzzle of how to understand & work with each autistic individual to empower them to be as independently functioning as possible.
- To me, it simply means autism awareness, just like a pink ribbon on a shirt- breast cancer awareness; a yellow ribbon around a tree- “bring my soldier home”; a wooden cutout of a stork, on a front lawn, with a blue ribbon- “it’s a boy”; a rainbow sticker on the back window of a car- gay pride….everyone knows what the autism awareness symbol is, regardless of their knowledge of autism. They see it & they think about autism, & isn’t that the point. If we suddenly put a green ribbon on that stork, because someone decides that blue is offensive, it will be a VERY long time before everyone gets that memo, & even longer before it becomes instinctive. Could someone have come up with a better ribbon? Maybe, but I personally think that it’s a beautiful symbol, because the fact is, the autistic world is a puzzle to us, & ours is puzzling to them, & how beautiful it would be if with enough acceptance and understanding our puzzling world’s could come together and fit perfectly. I know in my life, that I see a few more pieces fall into place every day; not just for my child, but for myself as well. There are very often things that are “puzzling” to me, things that’s just can’t wrap my head around, that I suddenly “get”, and that piece just falls into place, & fits so perfectly, that it makes absolute sense. So much sense in fact, that it’s much more logical & simplified than “our” way. That’s just my view, I can see others as well,…
- It means nothing to me, but more importantly it mean nothing to my son. Autism may have seemed a bit “puzzling” at the beginning but now the only puzzle pieces we are concerned about are the ones that disappear under the stove.
- … So really, the puzzle piece is nothing more than mirror into the person you are talking to. My hope is, however, that conversations about autism shift from how other people don’t understand us(mystery of autism), to how *both* autistic people and non-autistic misunderstand each other. And how we can develop mutual respect for our differences, for multiple ways of communicating, and an understanding that perspective does not equal wrong. Or right.
- I don’t like the symbol of the puzzle or blue lights. They remind me of loneliness, sadness (blue), and isolation (missing piece). I know that’s not what it’s supposed to mean. They just don’t make me or my son feel hopeful, understood, special, belonging. Autism is just really hard.
- That even though we’re all different, we all belong and are needed.
- That I am not alone and that I am unique due to my Autism. I am proud to have Autism!
- Wow. Some of the hateful things people say it means. Pretty sure intelligent people know that it refers to autism being a puzzle.
- …The puzzle pieces with a missing piece is the international symbol for Autism. How you use the puzzle is up to the individual. All we are doing is bringing attention to a situation that has grown and become more spoken about to help in trying too find a cure to this and let nobody else suffer from it. It means to me that this person has or knows someone who is afflicted with Autism. A way of bringing to attention that more needs to be done as the numbers are growing.
“You may like lighting it up blue or using puzzle pieces as a symbol of autism awareness.
I personally no longer like either of these things for lots of reasons and I post various blogs and articles about these topics in social media venues.”
For an in-depth explanation of her position on the subject, read Judy Endow’s essay, “Goodnight Autism Puzzle Pieces,” on the Olliebean.com blog site.
For another look at the argument against the use of puzzle pieces as symbols for autism, read the Facebook post, “What is wrong with the puzzle piece logo?”, by Parenting Autistic Children With Love and Acceptance. (PDF opens in new window)
Puzzle Pieces or No Puzzle Pieces? What’s Your Opinion?
So, here’s the dilemma we need your help with. As you know, Saved By Typing’s logo incorporates the puzzle piece design with our keyboard graphic font. While we don’t want to insult or alienate any of our readers, we still see the importance of the instantly recognizable symbol to help the growing Autism Awareness movement get it’s messages out to the public.
While we can appreciate that some people object to the symbol, it is also important to remember that their opinions are only based on THEIR interpretation of the issue. It doesn’t mean that they are correct. We have yet to come across, or at least noticed enough to take offense to, any examples of the “degrading” use of the logo that the reader mentioned.
So we ask, with all due respect, is this really an issue that needs a PC fix? Do we succumb to the will of the few that may take offense (for whatever reason) to what is essentially an innocuous symbol versus the many that seem to relate to, and often take comfort from, the puzzle pieces and their meaning, as they interpret it?
Do we change our organization’s logo to reflect what may or may not be an actual issue? Everyone is entitled to have their own opinions. While we appreciate and respect others’ opinions on the subject, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily agree with them. It is okay to have a difference of opinions, but it is not okay for those with a differing opinion from ours to expect us to change just because they object to it.
That being said, we feel that it is important for us to respect the concerns these visitors raised and address the issue. In order to do that fairly, we need your feedback.
What is your opinion on the subject? Should the puzzle piece logo stay or go? Have you encountered any negative or malicious use of the puzzle piece symbol that you have found offensive? Or is the whole issue being blown out of proportion?
Does the need for an eye-catching, easily recognizable, unifying symbol outweigh the objections of those that want to see it’s use discontinued? As of right now, we stand neutral on the issue. We truly need your input to help clarify the group’s position on the matter.
Please submit you comments below, or send us an email with your thoughts? We will continue to follow the discussion as your comments come in.