Reject puzzle piece as autism awareness icon

Injurious symbol suggests autistic people are incomplete or broken; teachers quickly correct bulletin board


Victoria Veselka

While I appreciated the life skills teachers attempt to raise Autism awareness with the first bulletin board, it contained an outdated, harmful symbol to represent autistic people. I sincerely appreciate how quickly the teachers changed the symbol once they learned of the negative connotations of the puzzle-piece symbol.

Victoria Veselka, guest columnist

A few weeks ago, I saw a postboard near the life skill classrooms that said “April is Autism Awareness Month,” but it was decorated with puzzle pieces. As an autistic person, I immediately felt uncomfortable seeing them especially because I would be passing by it every day. The reason why the puzzle pieces bothered me was because the symbol is outdated and problematic. 

Representing austism as ‘missing a piece’ or being a ‘puzzle’ implies that it is a problem that needs to be solved. But I am not a problem to be solved or missing any pieces.

The puzzle piece is problematic because it was popularized by Autism Speaks and is known as their main symbol. For a big percentage of the autistic community, Autism Speaks is harmful to us. As Paula Jessop explains in her article, “Autism Speaks was the biggest organisation to approach autism awareness from this perspective that autism is a disease requiring fixing, curing. Therefore, their campaigns were the most hurtful, upsetting and offensive to autistic people.”

Representing austism as “missing a piece” or being a “puzzle” implies that it is a problem that needs to be solved. But I am not a problem to be solved or missing any pieces. So while I appreciated the effort the life skill teachers made to raise awareness, for me and many people like me the symbol has too much of a negative connotation and history. 

For the next few hours after seeing the poster, I kept thinking about it, how I didn’t want to walk by it. I felt something horrible in my chest and I felt like I needed to DO something, anything. So I went to discuss it with an AP during a hike from the English hall to the postboard and back, and the next day I explained the problems to a life skill teacher and she had me show her the appropriate symbol for the community. Within a few hours I saw while walking from my theatre class that the puzzle pieces were removed. I appreciate how fast they changed it and how they changed it right when they were aware.