Besides some terminology in the Autism community, one of the next most controversial topics is the infamous puzzle piece.
Is it good or bad? Is it supportive or insulting?

Let’s start with the history of it, shall we? It was first used in 1963 by Gerald Gasson, a parent & board member of the National Autistic Society. The board believed Autistic people suffered from a “puzzling condition” & took to a puzzle piece because it was so different than what was commercially being used at the time. Alongside it was a crying child to show that Autistic people truly did suffer.

First of all - yikes. Big ol yikes to a lot of that. Clearly, this was a different time but the accompanying weeping child to drive home the ‘suffering’ aspect is gross.

 

The controversy surrounding the puzzle piece comes from opinions changing over time. While the National Autistic Society has since changed its logo, other organizations like Autism Speaks wear it very proudly. Many actual Autistics find the puzzle piece outrageously harmful. They believe that they aren’t missing any pieces, like a solo puzzle piece suggests. They don’t feel like there is anything that needs to figured out, like a puzzle suggests. In my research & conversations with actual Autistic adults, a majority of them much prefer a rainbow infinity sign, suggesting a spectrum of people that are truly all the same.

 

As a parent of a child with Autism, I am in no position to tell an Autistic person how they feel. Hell - in any position, I’m in no position to tell anyone how they feel. All I can do is educate myself, listen & come to my own conclusion.

I have a puzzle piece tattoo on my forearm for Jackson. I made this decision after doing my research & learning the history of it. Clearly, I interpret the puzzle piece in a different light. I see it as an extra something Jackson has. That Jackson, much like everyone else, is a jigsaw & his pieces fit differently.

 

I think it’s important to know opposing opinions of all topics & sides. Not all Autistic adults are against the use of the puzzle (although a majority are) & not all parents of children on the spectrum are a fan of the puzzle piece (even though a majority are). I think an important part of educating myself is to also learn about people’s opposing opinions.

 

As a parent & a creative, I love to create things with Jackson in mind. In the countless things I’ve made for him & his Autism, I have only used the puzzle piece once (my tattoo). The clothing line I started for him & his E.I. is a narwhal (his spirit animal). While I chose to use the puzzle piece for J on myself, it’s not his entire identity. To see it on me is a reminder that to me, he IS a puzzle, just like everyone else, but he’s special. & not in a condescending way. Jackson challenges me in ways I couldn’t have fathomed & I love him dearly for it. He’s not something that needs to be figured out or solved, but once something does falls into place, you can’t help but think of the bigger picture & be proud. The puzzle piece on my arm reminds me of our ever-changing journey & I’m constantly reminded of it.

I choose not to use it in my everyday life because I know many adults in the community find it insulting. Considering I am not Autistic myself, before I have an opinion on a community & am not directly a part of, I need to truly listen to them. Just something to keep in mind the next time you see a puzzle piece & Autism in the same space.

June 29, 2021 — JESSICA LIPSCOMB

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