I Stand Behind the Puzzle Piece

The puzzle piece is a point of contention in the autism world.

Many accept it as the unquestionable symbol of autism awareness.

But, that–awareness–is precisely what many self-advocates protest.  They argue that we are “people, not puzzles.”  These vocal advocates stand in opposition to everything the puzzle pieces stands for… the idea of awareness and not acceptance, treatment and not accommodation, autism as “other” and not part of a beautiful whole that is humanity.

Being a moderate in the world of autism is a tough thing.  On many fronts, I agree with the self-advocates; it is no secret and thus I am hiding nothing when I come out and say that one of their biggest battles is against Autism Speaks.  There is an active boycott (if one can actively do a passive thing such as boycotting) against Autism Speaks.  Though I agree with many of the claims against the mega-charity, such as disproportionately high pay to higher-ups and low giving to people who need it most, as well as the idea that autism is some monster in need of a cure, I do not and will not fight, battle, or in any way bash them.  

I’ve heard that being in vocal opposition to Autism Speaks could cost me opportunities in the future, but here’s the thing: While I see issues with Autism Speaks, I will have no part of combating problems with more negativity.  I believe, strongly, that truth and good will prevail, and so I seek to add to the body of truth and good and positivity rather than engaging in attacks.  Don’t fight hate with hate–fight it with love.  

Whether or not it will cost me positions and opportunities in the future, I don’t know, but I will seek truth and justice, and in doing so, I do call Autism Speaks out on their failings.  But, I’m not fighting, attacking, accusing them.  I’m going to stay over here and do my own thing, focusing on positives and love and joy and HOPE… and, in doing so, I contribute to a future of all those things rather than a future full of battles.

The puzzle piece, though… it has become something of a symbol of the battle.  The rallying point of those against it is that autistic people are, in fact, “people, not puzzles.”  I totally agree with them, but I do not and have never seen the puzzle piece as any implication that autistic people are puzzling.  Instead, I see it as a symbol of a world in which autism has a part… and a world in which each of us is a small part out of which we seek, we hope, we strive to make a successful whole.  

My piece, my part.  Your piece, your part.  

So, I support the use of the puzzle piece as the symbol of autism awareness in a world in which we all matter.  As far as mainstream awareness goes versus the idea of the minority cries for autism acceptance… again, I recognize the battle there, but I don’t want to be a part of it at this point.  In the past, in my early years, I have supported the Light it up Blue campaign, and then, for a time, I thought that I was wrong for doing so and fell away from it.  This year, I have too many irons in the fire to have a very clear opinion on Light it up Blue, but I DO and I WILL support April as a month of focus on accurate information about autism.  As for awareness versus acceptance, I absolutely support both.  I don’t like the feeling that, if I support awareness, I feel shut-out by those who want only acceptance… yet, we cannot have the latter without the former.  In a world where people think autism is “a disease” and have so many other misconceptions, I will continue to work toward ensuring that the public has accurate knowledge about the autism spectrum.

I will continue to fight for our piece in the whole puzzle that is humanity.  That is one fight or battle in which I will wholeheartedly engage, and you can call it whatever you’d like.

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8 thoughts on “I Stand Behind the Puzzle Piece

  1. Stating principled objections to the persistent outrages of an organization, committed in our name but without our consent or input, is not “fighting hate with hate.” I’m sorry, what?

    • I choose to stay out of the politics as much as I can, not because they aren’t important, but because I’m one person with limited time, energy, and resources, and, as we all do, I have to pick and choose where I’m going to spend all of those things. I want to spread them focusing on positivity at this point in my journey, if nothing else, because I need that right now. Again, I’m not belittling the importance of changing things politically… just saying that it’s not my place at this time. When I say fight hate with love, I’m saying that I hope my message of positivity will contribute to a better world for all of us… not so much that I’m accusing others of fighting with hate so much as I’m reminding myself of my own place in this whole thing.

    • I can see where it sounded like I was accusing others of being hateful, and that wasn’t what I intended to do. I apologize.

  2. I do see the puzzle piece used in negative ways, there are many images of children’s faces framed as puzzles with one or a few missing pieces. They only show autistic people like that, never nonautistic, the message is obvious. Nonautistic are not shown as puzzles, they never have missing pieces, they just appear as people. There are no pictures of groups where they show autistics and non autistic happy interacting as a puzzle to show we are all the same and part of the whole. If everyone was shown as puzzles, or mixed groups, or families, maybe I would see it as a positive message, but with all the autistic children as puzzles with missing pieces, all the messages about unlocking autism, discovering the secret, etc, I don’t think they are saying nice things.
    We are the same as them, no more mysterious, or in need to be fixed or with missing pieces and that’s not what they show.
    Not saying that you should change your mind, just replying to what you said about never seeing the puzzle symbol to mean anything negative about us and explaining why I don’t like the symbol.

    • I absolutely see it used negatively, too, in ways that hurt autistic people. I guess I’m not quite ready to give up on the symbol as a concept on the basis of that association, strong though it may be. Perhaps that’s head-in-the-clouds to the point of silliness on my part.

  3. I’ve heard that being in vocal opposition to Autism Speaks could cost me opportunities in the future.

    Every time someone tells me that, I say to them, “And people’s support of it could cost me my life. Awareness serves nothing if it doesn’t come with knowledge.”

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