Logos, Symbols, Ribbons...

Update 20 Jan 2011: I have written on the origins and evolution of the puzzle piece logo.  
Ribbons and wristbands are a fairly poor way to indicate interest in a cause. When there is a dedicated color of ribbon or wristband for every issue or cause, none of the rainbow matters. A chest full of ribbons, aligned in some proto-military fashion, seems ludicrous.

So, one more ribbon should matter. But it does.

The Autism Awareness campaign uses either a puzzle-piece pattern or a tie-dye pattern with purple dominant. For some reason, these do bother me more than the dozens (hundreds?) of ribbons we are supposed to associate with causes.

Autistic individuals are puzzles? They are distorted, psychedelic minds? Exactly what is the message? Not that all people aren't puzzles, but to think one group is any more puzzling is a curious claim. How does this promote understanding? The claim that we are all part of the greater puzzle... no, a puzzle is a mystery. The message to me that autism and autistic people are strange, mysterious.

I wish there were other symbols, less reductive symbols, for autism awareness. Puzzle pieces are simply offensive.


  1. Wyatt,
    Autistic individuals are not puzzles. But the puzzle pieces are meant to mean that it is puzzling to many on how to treat and reverse this puzzling condition. " Puzzle pieces are the symbol for autism awareness, because doctors are still trying to piece together the puzzle and find a cause of the disease, as well as a cure.

  2. I've heard more than one parent / advocate refer to the "puzzle" of a child with autism. They also speak of the "trapped" child in the body. So, whatever the intention, the puzzle too often means something absurd.

  3. "The Autism Awareness Ribbon"
    The puzzle pattern of this ribbon reflects the mystery and complexity of autism. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of people and families living with this disorder. The brightness of this ribbon signals hope-- hope through research and increasing awareness in people like you...

    other thing msunc is right there is a saying... the puzzle pieces will be put together... meaning they will find an answer to autism

  4. The intent of a logo is less important than how it is perceived and interpreted. If you have to educate the public as to its meaning -- bad logo design.

    Many of the self-advocates I've met dislike the puzzle symbol, so I'm not alone. To be called "confusing" and "puzzling" at school and work certainly shapes our perspectives.

    The logo won't change, but it does signify Autism Speaks to many people, since they use a puzzle piece. I'm agnostic on Autism Speaks, since I don't interact with the organization or most other groups. It seems to bother some people while others love it.

    I just don't like the puzzle piece. Most of the public have no clue what the intention is.

  5. I have to agree that I hate to stigmatize my daughter by calling her a puzzle, or anyone else on the spectrum as a puzzle.... although I have in many specialist appointments exclaimed, "she's still a puzzle!" but, I've meant that really in respect to finding out the underlying cause/diagnosis, etc... answers to all my "whys"... which really don't matter to me as much anymore because the older she gets, and the longer we all live together as an "autistic family", I place more importance on her general quality of life and giving her the skills she needs to be happy and thriving.

    I do want the general public to be aware, however. I want them to know so that if they see my non verbal daughter wandering around aimlessly, they may spot her and recognize she may need help.

    I want the general public to be aware of the ups and downs and emotional roller coaster that the entire "autistic family" rides on. To lend an ear to a mom who has dealt with tantrums all day, or to lend an ear to a sibling learning to cope... or to reach out a helpful compassionate hand to my daughter, who cannot speak, but be able to look into her eyes and see exactly what she wants to "tell you"...

    So, what am I left with? the puzzle piece, or the ribbon? I suppose... maybe the rest of us could come up with the "anti-symbol"... the symbol that says "Yes I/my child/whoever is autistic, here's what you need to know"... how about a good old fashioned t-shirt that just says "autistic?"....

  6. I think the symbols, the puzzle piece and the ribbon with the puzzle pieces are very effective in identifying the condition of Autism. Whether people think it means the child is a puzzle, I don't believe it was the intention. The symbol of the brightly colored puzzle peices, whether by themselves or on a ribbon are widely recognized meaning Autism. My nephew Corbin is autistic, and as long as the awareness of this condition is starting to be known, it's a great first step. Just my 2 pennies.

  7. well said David... my son is autistic and i dont find the puzzle piece offensive in anyway. I am in the process of getting a small puzzle piece tattooed on my wrist to get awarness out there, people know the symbol and each person can interp it however they like, to me its awarness and for that it can be any design as long as its recognized... to me the puzzle piece is mystery and cure is still uncertain it is also the complexity of how they think. I think it beautiful

  8. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network uses the slogan "I am not a puzzle!"

    They are fighting to have the puzzle dumped as a symbol. I'm not that concerned -- you can't change something so widespread, but I do understand why the HFA/AS community is offended so deeply.

    The ASAN members do associate the puzzle with "cure" movements, which they are constantly challenging. I'm torn -- I'd certainly like to have some aspects of autism, especially severe Kanner's autism, better understood and even prevented.

    At the same time, I know I am different and some of those differences might be beneficial. The "puzzle" to me implies something negative, as it does to ASAN, but I think all people are puzzles -- not merely individuals with ASDs.

  9. The puzzle works. Autism is a puzzle. Not really a need to over complicate it. I'm uneducated and only know a few people with Autism. It was simple and self explanitory to me as an average person on the street what it meant. No matter the symbol of anything, it will be evaluated to different degrees by different persons. You should probably just "agree to disagree" on this one.

  10. Individuals with autism are unique and wonderful. Autism itself is a puzzle. We aren't sure what causes it, there seems to be numerous triggers, each one a puzzle piece. We aren't sure how to treat it, each therapy is a puzzle piece. Individuals with autism have numerous underlying medical conditions, such as altered immune systems, poorly functioning methylation cycles, inflammation of the gut and brain, fungal overgrowths of the gut.....I see puzzle pieces everywhere. I also see hope everywhere. I have 2 sons on the autism spectrum, and as a physician I donate my time to a center I founded to provide low-cost treatment for children with autism. To me, the puzzle pieces are perfect for picturing the causes, treatments and medical conditions. But the children and adults are NOT puzzle pieces to me, they are beautiful and unique PEOPLE.

  11. I am a teacher of autism. I believe that symbol of the puzzle piece is very fitting. These children are so brilliant and are misinterpreted by their lack of communication and social skills. They are wonderful children with their own unique patterns. Each child has multiple pieces that need to put together in a certain way in order to get their brains firing in the correct order. By teaching them schedules and routines we are bginning to put their puzzle together. I feel that the puzzle piece is an amazing way of putting it and if people think of it in a negative way it is only because they want to think that way. It is a very positive and interesting way to allow people to look at what Autism really is, it is a neuological condition. Everyone's brain is like a puzzle but our pieces are all put together where these guys need our help to guide their puzzle pieces into place. :-)

  12. I don't think AUTISM is a puzzle, just the idea that individuals that don't fit the "norm" are a puzzle. I believe ASD isn't a disorder or disease, just a different way of being. All of us are different. I often think its the world that needs to adapt, not the individual "on the spectrum". I wish we would work more on accepting, and less on curing! I am a teacher, researcher, and almost PhD working on understanding and adapting the world and helping the individual understand the "neurtypical" so they can function and be happy when they are not "neurotypicals".

  13. I never do this, but I am. I have a nephew that is part of the Autism Spectrum...a piece of that so called "puzzle". He is HFA and has Asperger's. I just bought him a shirt with the puzzle and he wears it like his skin - VERY PROUD. I am also getting the tattoo - the butterfly with the puzzle..because that is him. A butterfly, all over the place, the puzzle - still trying to figure it out with all of his mystery and brightness! I am proud to say that I don that puzzle. My daughter got the puzzle tattooed on her wrist. "Bringing awareness" is just that. When people ask "what is the puzzle for" - our answer "bring awareness" to the puzzle. You should be proud to be a part of that puzzle, not offended. I, in fact, find it offensive that you are trying "take away" from the "awareness" that that beautiful puzzle brings. Try looking at it from another angle - in the spectrum of Autism.


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