April is Autism awareness month, I recently ran across this article in the which the author described their reasons for disliking the puzzle piece as the symbol for Autism. While I disagree and have outlined some of that disagreement elsewhere my point here is to explain why I find the puzzle piece fitting, and apt as a symbol for Autism.
Firstly lets look at what a “puzzle” is: something designed to test ingenuity or knowledge.
Now let’s not get carried away and suppose that I am saying folks with Autism are here to test our ingenuity and knowledge, not so, but Autism does test both the ingenuity and knowledge of not only those of us work with loved ones on the spectrum, but also of those who are on the spectrum.
Superficially this works; however Autism and the full circumstances surrounding it aren’t superficial things so let’s keep looking deeper here. To better illustrate my point I turn to this illustration.
Yes I picked a puzzle piece shaped puzzle, but there is a reason for that. Because Autism isn’t the puzzle, people on the Spectrum aren’t the puzzle, humanity IS the puzzle. Autism is but one piece.
Now many get upset supposing the idea is that they are supposed to “fit in” to learn how to be like the other pieces.
But that isn’t how puzzles work. Look back at the picture, each piece already has a space where it is supposed to go, it has a purpose, and that place and purpose is connected to other pieces.
Take away a piece and the puzzle or picture it is making, or humanity is incomplete. Try to use that piece somewhere it doesn’t belong and the puzzle picture (humanity) doesn’t take shape the way it is supposed to, try to make one exactly like the one next to it and the puzzle doesn’t work.
Cuz here is the thing, you and I, us
Neurotypicals (as if we all didn’t have some level of idiosynchratic abnormality) we are puzzle pieces too.
And we need each other to help discover our place and purpose, and only by working together do we really get to see the whole picture, and reach our greatest potential.
A puzzle piece is a specific set part of a whole, with a purpose and place all its own, you don’t make a puzzle piece “fit in” it already has a place where it belongs, the point is to work together with those pieces it touches so that all of them find their right place.
Autism hasn’t been easy, but it has taught me my place and purpose, it has shown me what is important, it has shown me what matters, and what the picture ought to be, and caused me to shift and move and discover where I really fit, and how I can best help those connected to me become their part of the whole.
There is a fantastic Book & Documentary called “Life Animated“. It follows the adventures of the Suskind family and their journey with Autism.
I want you to read it and see the movie so I won’t give away much about it, other than to say, seeing the doc at Sundance was legitimately one of the highlights of my life, especially as it relates to my life relative to Autism.
Lastly to me the puzzle piece is about finding out meaning, about finding our spot and purpose. Part of that purpose is contributing something worthwhile, something of value, something that we learn and something others we connect with teach us.
I’ll leave you with this from Ron Suskind author of Life Animated, and I hope it helps you understand why I think the puzzle piece remains a worthwhile symbol for Autism