I am not a puzzle: From Reports from a Resident Alien

The following discussion of the puzzle piece and infinity symbols was written by Chaoticidealism at Reports from a Resident Alien, and is shared with her permission. Read more Reports from a Resident Alien here.

(Originally posted on the Autism Speaks forum.)

I don’t like the puzzle piece ribbon to symbolize autism.

When I say “I am not a puzzle piece”, I mean:

1. I’m a whole person–I don’t have any pieces missing. I don’t need to be put together or fixed. Even people with very low functioning autism are still whole people; and they don’t need to be fixed either. Educated, yes. Treated, yes. But having a disability doesn’t make you any less of a person, even if that disability means you can’t communicate your personhood very well.

2. The “mystery of autism” isn’t any deeper than the “mystery” of any other disorder whose mechanism we don’t quite understand yet. That isn’t enough to justify using puzzle pieces to symbolize autism, and not (for example) schizophrenia, Tourette’s, or diabetes.

3. The communication barrier between an autistic person and a non-autistic person means that the autistic person’s thoughts are often unknown–that is, a “puzzle” to the non-autistic. However, I don’t like using a puzzle piece to symbolize this because it seems to say that those thoughts are not only unknown but unknowable; and that is just not true. It takes more effort from both sides to bridge the gap; but it can be done. Even screaming is communication, when you get right down to it; and even a totally nonverbal person understands what warmth and food and comfort mean.

This is the alternative I would like to see used, the rainbow infinity symbol:


Here’s why it stands for autism.

  • First of all, the rainbow is a spectrum of color just like autism is a spectrum. The colors are different but they are all part of a larger scheme, just like autism is diverse but connected.
  • The infinity symbol represents mystery, just like a puzzle piece does; but in a more positive way. Infinity is a quantity in math that isn’t quite knowable, but it’s very large.
  • The more math-loving part of the Spectrum also rather enjoys the mathematical aspect of the infinity symbol: When you work with infinities, you often end up with undefined quantities–variables that don’t have a definition. But the nice thing about those variables is that, if you work with them right, you can once again define them…
  • The infinity symbol also represents the way we tend to choose one thing and perseverate on it, whether it’s lining up blocks or quantum physics. It represents the enjoyment of loving something and spending your time doing it–over and over!

I would much rather be a rainbow infinity symbol than a puzzle piece…

5 thoughts on “I am not a puzzle: From Reports from a Resident Alien

  1. Hi friends. Shannon Rosa posted a link to this essay at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism Facebook page; the discussion has been lively.

  2. bev says:

    Thank you, Liz!

  3. Karen Simpson says:

    A wonderful post, with your permission I would like to use the rainbow infinity symbol on my FB page and in my autism advocacy work as I agree it is a more positive symbol for autism awareness. I have a 6 year old son with ASD.

  4. Diane M. says:

    I really like your idea of the “Infinity Rainbow”! My grandson is 8 years old & an Aspie. I am constantly re-evaluating my concept of the the whole Autism Spectrum, Aspergers & the dreaded puzzle piece. When he was first diagnosed I thought, wonderful – at least we have a diagnosis, we’ll get a plan! How far out of whack was that thinking?! When I first saw the puzzle piece, I didn’t get it. After a long time of pondering, I figured it out! Ohhh, so it’s like the (thier) brain is “missing the piece” that helps them (fill in the blank)! And there are so many different pieces of the brain! I thought that was just a great way to symbolize Autism! I bought the keychain because it was so nice looking & I could proudly wave my flag. Then I began to hear rumblings in the news & on the internet that those with Autism were not all that proud of this logo. I could only wonder why until I read the words of an Asperger adult stating there was nothing missing about him. He was as complete & whole as any other person on this earth & really resented being told he wasn’t. It was quite a powerful statement! I began to look at my grandson differently. I began to see what I was missing!!! I no longer think of my grandson’s future with a cloud of sadness! The young man that wrote that statement blew me away, but with it went the sadness. My grandson’s future is as bright & promising as any other 8 year old boy in this country! His abilities are numerous & each day I spend with him, I learn something about him that simply astounds me! I wish I had remembered the young man that wrote that statement so that I could personally thank him! But what you wrote was pretty close to what he was saying and that’s why I am writing to you. I am thanking him thru you! Thank you for shining your light.

    PS: Is there anything actively being done about changing the puzzle piece? I think the Infinity Rainbow is a great representation! The best I’ve see. Thank you!

  5. L. says:

    Yesyesyes, this is perfect, not just in putting into words what has been annoying me about that symbol but also in coming up with just THE BEST symbol. I immediately relate to it so much. I’ve always loved the infinity symbol!

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