As happens so often to me, as someone newly discovering the autism community, I recently managed to offend people. I’m usually super skilled at inadvertently angering people, but in this case, I was blindsided by the strong negative reaction. My crime was using a puzzle piece as a symbol for autism.
If you didn’t know already, be warned; a lot of autistic people hate the puzzle piece and will tell you so utilizing all the tact possessed by most of us (viz. none). Apparently, the puzzle piece is symbolic of autism being a mystery to be solved, or carries the implication that autistic people do not fit in.
And then I made my second mistake: I argued on the internet. I swear to you, I know better, but I did it anyway.
My main points were as follows:
1) Autism is absolutely a bit of a mystery! That doesn’t make it a problem requiring a solution, but if you think that neurotypical people don’t have to work a little bit harder to understand us, you’re kidding yourself.
2) Puzzle pieces do fit in. That is the ENTIRE POINT of a puzzle. If puzzle pieces didn’t fit together to form a complete picture, Ravensburger would be selling boxes of random cardboard and no one would buy that.
3) Everyone understands how puzzles work. It’s not a symbol requiring massive amounts of explanation (and I do see the irony in making that statement in the middle of explaining it).
So I’m going to go ahead and keep using the puzzle piece. To me, it represents the ability of autistic people to fit in despite our differences. If that offends you, please trust that causing offense is in no way my intent. I’m simply in love with the idea that the human race as a whole can be compared to a puzzle; pieces of various shapes and colors that each have their own special niche.
You need all the pieces to complete the picture, and no piece can fit properly in the place meant for another. As an autistic person, I’m honored that my people have dibs on the puzzle piece, because to me it is a beautiful metaphor. It reminds me that there’s a place for me amongst the neurotypical pieces, and they need me as much as I need them.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
See, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.
- Rick Nelson, “Garden Party” (1972)