Growing up involved in one part or another with the autism community, I am all too familiar with the puzzle piece motif. My views have shifted about what it means to me since that post. This is one of many debates within the community that has various stances.
The general meaning is that those who are on the spectrum are a jigsaw puzzle, an enigma, that has some missing pieces. Those pieces need to be found and put together so that they can be “whole”.
While I know that there are parts of my brain that are not wired quite right, that doesn’t mean that I have gaping holes in my skull. I’m biologically whole, last time I checked. So why should I be a puzzle?
One of my first assignments in my Editing class was to make a PowerPoint movie about yourself. I used the puzzle piece motif, without the usual color scheme, and likened my life to assembling a puzzle without the final image. I start with the border and then move on to different sections. Not once did I state “autism” or “Asperger’s”. Those terms, from what I can recall, did not appear in my peers’ minds but the concept was well understood.
Every day, I interact with people, mostly neurotypical, to the best of my ability and at times I am not provided with all the pieces. For me, I can use the analogy for everyone I meet. I don’t state this in face-to-face group discussion as that would be inappropriate.
Recently, I have started work on my senior project which will focus on how I view the world as someone on the spectrum. I’m excited about this project and feel like this can be a strong piece; it’s a matter of reflection and figuring out why I do what I do and then putting it into words. I’m debating whether or not to use the puzzle piece and the associated color scheme as a style choice; I doubt I will.
I do have an autism tie with the puzzle pattern and color scheme pictured above. I wore it recently to my school’s year-end art exhibition a week or so ago (which had more sensory overload than usual but that’s another story) instead of my usual black or maroon tie. For those who did look at my tie, they said “Nice tie” and I returned the complement. Nobody, as far as I know, knew what the imagery meant. I wasn’t upset about it but I would have liked it to spark some conversation. I figured that people had other things on their mind and let it go.
I’m not offended if the piece has the above color scheme; it’s the periwinkle blue that triggers me. I haven’t gone into meltdown mode or anything like that since that post but at the same time I haven’t had a chance to work on this. I know I will need to in the future and still be able to function. I also know that I will not support that organization in the future because of their stance.
The puzzle piece, while recognizable as a symbol for autism, has a different meaning depending on who you ask. For me, I don’t mind if people use it but the color scheme can change everything. Just keep this in mind whenever you talk to people, regardless if they are on the spectrum or not.