Within a few days, I was already observing a familiar debate. In fact, it the debate I described in the single most-viewed blog entry of The Autistic Me, which dates back to 2008 (see "Logos, Symbols, and Ribbons").
Various "Aspie Advocates" are still protesting the puzzle piece. I'm sure they will be protesting the puzzle piece next year, in five years, and a decade from now. The "neurodiverstiy" (ND) movement doesn't like the puzzle piece. (Everyone's brain is different: neurological diversity is a fact of life.)
Yes, I know people will give me "101 Reasons for the Puzzle Piece" — seriously, I have received at least that many explanations via e-mail. Some are cute, some are only semi-serious, and some are passionate defenses of the logo. Some parents and caregivers identify with the logo more intensely than I identify with my hometown or beloved California.
I might not love the logo, but I'm not repulsed by it. I just think it is strange. I'm not inclined to protest or care as much as the aspie/autie self-advocacy neurodiversity autism rights activists. Instead, I decided to learn about the history of the puzzle piece and other symbols.
It turns out, the puzzle piece was chosen because it was distinct. There was no plan, no long debate about significance. A professional gave a presentation, "Perspectives on a Puzzle," to the National Autism Society, U.K., shortly after the organization was founded in 1962.
Apparently, the puzzle piece logo was adopted in 1963, according to the notes posted by a director of the organization. The original NAS puzzle piece was green. In 2005, Autism Speaks adopted a blue puzzle piece. The Autism Society of America uses a puzzle piece of multi-colored puzzle pieces. You get the idea.
It was designed by a parent member of the Executive Committee, Gerald Gasson, and the minutes of the Executive Meeting of 14 February 1963 read: 'The Committee decided 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'. It first appeared on our stationary and then on our newsletter in April 1963. Our Society was the first autistic society in the world and our puzzle piece has, as far as I know, been adopted by all the autistic societies which have followed, many of which in their early days turned to us for information and advice.The current NAS logo is a bit difficult to describe.
One year ago, right before National Autism Awareness Month (April in the U.S.), there was a flurry of outrage on various autism forums protesting the puzzle piece. I understand the response, and I now realize this will be a debate that goes on daily and weekly within autism communities.
On LiveJournal yesterday there were more than 50 posts within a few hours on the puzzle piece icons / logos used by various autism-related organizations. The vast majority of posts were from people with ASDs who view the puzzle quite negatively. One reason for the depth of distaste is the association of the puzzle with Autism Speaks.The puzzle piece isn't going away because it is so easily recognized. Parents spot it from hundreds of feet away. It's a way for families to feel like they aren't alone, I suppose. This isn't like a campaign sticker -- autism doesn't go away after six months of annoying television commercials. It's a life-long part of not only my life, but the lives of people around me. Maybe they have something of a need to share that identity with each other.
I realize the self-advocates, and certainly me, forget that our friends and family do want and need connections to share their experiences. They need to feel there's a support network out there.
I might not like the puzzle piece, but maybe it isn't for me. It definitely isn't "for me" in the same way fried Twinkies aren't "for me" -- I don't find it appealing at all. But, the puzzle isn't the biggest issue in my life or in the lives of most autistic students I've met. They care about services and supports, not about bracelets and t-shirts.
Someone from an autism group told me I should be passionate, since I studied "rhetoric" and know the power of words and symbols. Yes, I do know their power. Right now, the power is that it helps organize parents, educators, and other advocates trying to maintain services and supports against a difficult economic backdrop. I might not approve of everything Autism Speaks represents, but I also know I am better off persuading groups to pursue supports for teens and adults than worrying about their symbol choice.
Also, I have been a presenter at Autism Society of America events. I happen to like the ASA, even when I might disagree with some programs locally -- like skillshops presenting "both sides" of diet and vaccination issues. I want ASA to grow and prosper. I'd rather people think of ASA than Autism Speaks, honestly. So, if people want to buy and display the ASA ribbon / puzzle piece, I'm not going to tell them otherwise.
From the Autism Society of America:
Put on the Puzzle! The Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is the most recognized symbol of the autism community in the world. Autism prevalence is now one in every 110 children in America - that's 13 million families and growing who live with autism today. Show your support for people with autism by wearing the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon this month – as a pin on your shirt, a magnet on your car, a badge on your blog, or even your Facebook profile picture - and educate folks on the potential of people with autism! For suggestions and resources, visit www.autism-society.org.If you want to display, wear, or promote a puzzle piece or some other symbol, that's your choice.
The one logo / symbol I display anywhere is the "bitten Apple" logo. I miss the old rainbow logo Apple used during the 1980s, but we have the white stickers on our cars and even my scooter. The sticker makes it a lot easier to recognize which plain white Jeep Cherokee is ours in a parking lot.