The trouble with puzzle pieces

person drawing with sparkling light symbol of infinity

Historically the Autistic community have been represented by primary coloured puzzle pieces. Although this symbol can be interpreted many ways there are inherent problems with it.

It was first used to represent ‘childhood schizophrenia’, the first modern label of what we now know to be autism. The primary colours were used to show that it only affected children and the puzzle piece explained that we were a mystery and ‘missing a piece’ of humanity.

Some modern day charities still use this symbol, some without understanding its history of bigotry, shame and eugenics.

The most shameful of these charities is Autism Speaks, an American company which hopes to ‘cure’ people of their autism.

In 17 years of running they have only had one neurodivergent person on their board, who left when they found the company did not have the best interests of Autistic people at heart – by supporting Applied Behavioural Analysis – a type of conversion therapy to make Autistic people “normal”, for one of many, many examples I could give.

The AS website is also filled with non-consensual videos of young children having meltdowns, smearing and otherwise engaged in ‘challenging’ behaviour. It makes Autistic children out to be animals and their parents to be martyrs. It’s abhorrent.

Autism Speaks also uses blue for their logo, strengthening the idea that autism is a male-only neurodivergence. Making it even more difficult for women, non-binary and trans people to get diagnosis and support.

Similar issues have been found with many other autism charities which seek to change our behaviours, make us compliant to neuronormativity and make our mental health suffer for the sake of appearing ‘normal.’

Even companies which look virtuous can be ill-informed or steeped in autisphobia and ableism. The National Autistic Society, based in the UK, used a wheeping child in a jigsaw puzzle piece as their logo for many years as they believed that that represented autism!?

There are *many* charities out there which need close scrutiny as to whether they actually want to help Autistic folk or “cure” us.

So what symbols, colours and charities are better to use and support?

These days most Autistic people prefer the infinity symbol ♾ to represent us and our non-exhaustive identities and experiences.

The colour gold or red is also preferred. Gold on the periodic table is ‘Au’, signifying our worth and also the Autistic Union – an Autistic advocacy and pride stance shared by both Autistic people and their allies.

When you see ‘Au’ in people’s screen name it may mean they are involved in Autistic activism or they are just flying their Autistic pride flag high for all to see.

When looking for Autistic based charities I like to look at the following: the use of identity first language (“Autistic person”) as this is preferred by many Autistic people and shows the charity listens to us and has current knowledge of our culture. Charities which use infinity symbols, red and gold coloured logos and the words neurodiversity and neurodivergence – again this shows that they understand how we want to be reprsented.

Charities which understand and appreciate Autistic experiences as a unique part of human diversity – an identity which may mean we need to be supported differently.

Basically, charities which care about us and our well-being and meet us where we are at, instead of trying to drag us kicking and screaming into someone else’s idea of humanity.


♡ we are not a puzzle.

♡ light it up red instead.

♡ be careful what autism charities you support.

♡ appreciate us as whole human beings.

♡ we are golden 😉 [wink].

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