A blog about Austim Awareness and if the we should use the puzzle piece or infinity symbol

Are We Getting Autism Awareness Wrong?

In the realm of social movements and advocacy, symbols hold a power that transcends words. They serve as visual shorthand for complex emotions, experiences, and communities. For decades, the puzzle piece has been synonymous with autism awareness, a beacon for those seeking understanding and solidarity. Yet, as our understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) deepens, so too does the evolution of its symbols. This transition from the puzzle piece to the infinity rainbow signifies a broader shift in perception within the autism community—a move towards inclusivity, diversity, and empowerment.

As a grandmother deeply devoted to her grandson, who is autistic, I recently found myself at the intersection of tradition and transformation. My intention was simple: to spread awareness and love through my craft. With this goal in heart, I introduced two products on TikTok: a sweatshirt featuring a heart with puzzle pieces and another with the heart embracing the infinity rainbow sign. Each designed to be personalized with a child’s initial or name on the sleeve, these creations were born from a place of love and a desire to support and celebrate the autistic community.

The feedback was immediate and eye-opening. While some appreciated the sentiment, others highlighted the shift away from the puzzle piece, advocating for the infinity rainbow as the new symbol of autism awareness. This response prompted me to explore the complex dialogue surrounding these symbols.

Understanding the Symbols

The Puzzle Piece: Introduced in 1963 by the National Autistic Society, the puzzle piece symbolized the complexity of autism spectrum conditions. Its original intention was to represent the 'puzzling' nature of autism and the idea that every piece is essential. However, over time, critiques have emerged from within the autistic community. Some argue that it implies that individuals with autism are missing pieces, portraying them as incomplete or mysterious. It's seen by some as a symbol of the medical model of disability, focusing on autism as a disease that needs to be 'solved' or 'cured.'

The Infinity Rainbow: In contrast, the infinity rainbow symbolizes diversity and inclusion. Its endless loop represents the vast, spectrum of experiences within the autistic community, emphasizing that every individual’s experience with autism is unique and valuable. The rainbow colors further celebrate this diversity, moving beyond a singular narrative to embrace the full range of human difference. This symbol aligns with the social model of disability, which focuses on society's role in disabling people through lack of accessibility and inclusion, rather than seeing the disability as the problem to be fixed.

A Personal Reflection

As a grandmother who loves her grandson beyond words, my journey into the world of autism advocacy was never about politics. It was about love, understanding, and the desire to spread awareness. The feedback from the autism community has been a profound learning experience, illuminating the nuanced perspectives that exist within any advocacy space. It has shown me that symbols, while powerful, are also deeply personal and subject to change as our understanding evolves.

Bridging Understanding with Love

In light of this learning journey, both my products—the heart with puzzle pieces and the heart with the infinity rainbow sign—stand as testament to the evolving conversation around autism awareness. They represent not a division but a spectrum of engagement, from traditional symbols to new expressions of inclusion and diversity. Personalizing these sweatshirts with a child’s name or initials is an act of love, a way to say, "I see you, I support you, and you are perfect exactly as you are."

As we move forward, let us embrace the complexity of these symbols with open hearts and minds. Let us listen to the voices of the autistic community, respecting their perspectives and experiences. And above all, let us remember that at the core of any symbol is the human experience—diverse, beautiful, and deserving of recognition and respect.

In this journey of awareness and advocacy, I remain committed to learning, growing, and loving. Through my creations, I hope to offer a piece of that love to others, bridging understanding one heart at a time. 

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