What’s wrong with the puzzle piece for Autism?

What’s Wrong with the Puzzle Piece for Autism?

A friend suggested I join a Facebook group run by actually Autistic adults.  I’m so glad I did.  First, my role in that group is as an observer or student.  Clearly, I have a lot to learn, both as the Mom of an Autistic child and as an SLP.  I realized- in raising my son- that I really need to turn to Autistic adults for guidance just as much as I do neurotypical “professionals”.

1) It is NOT the job of Autistic adults to teach us.  Those that do are being very gracious.  This may make them uncomfortable….and many are very tired of trying and people like me not listening to them.
2) “Why not the puzzle piece?”  This proves the very point.  BECAUSE THEY SAID SO.  If we really want to know, we can research this…without asking them.
3) If it bothers them, why do the rest of us need to know why?  Within 24 hours of hearing about the negative connotation of the puzzle piece, I paid hundreds of dollars to rebrand my entire LLC. When you know better, do better.  I still have some undoing to do….and this will be lifelong learning.

For those who are having trouble finding information:
1) The original puzzle piece had a picture of a sad child.  It represented this depressing mystery that needed solving.  It implied that…somewhere out there…was a cure.  That we can treat autism.

According to Debra Muzikar with The Art of Autism, “The origins of the puzzle piece, the primary symbol for Autism, go back to 1963. It was created by Gerald Gasson, a parent and board member for the National Autistic Society (formerly The Society for Autistic Children) in London. The board believed autistic people suffered from a ‘puzzling’ condition.”

The original logo:


The puzzle piece points to suffering, which just isn’t necessarily true.  Negative implications such as this make autism frightening for parents, confusing for the community, and contribute to the lack of acceptance and inclusion autistic individuals and their families face day to day.


There are some “treatments” listed for autism.  This gives a false sense of “hope” for families.  Neurological differences, such as autism, are not fixed with treatment.  There are supportive therapies (for the purposes of safety, communication, and surviving in the “normal” world), but they do not cure autism.


This one is big for me.  I’ll readily admit, my number one fear as a first time Mom was “what if he’s autistic”.  That was the direct result of my lack of education, exposure, and acceptance of autism.

4) The infinity symbol is more accepted.  It reminds us that this isn’t linear, its more loving, inclusive, and accepting.

Many Autistic adults have shared that they’d like to change April from Autism Awareness month to AUTISM ACCEPTANCE month!

5) People first vs. diagnosis first labeling.  Autistic Person vs Person with Autism.  I’ve seen Autistic adults use and describe both.  I think it’s important to note that many Autistic adults may or may not disclose that they are Autistic at all.  So far, this seems to be a person-to-person decision, but it’s important that we are sensitive to what other people want to be called, labeled, or referred to.

Our role as professionals is to provide support to help Autistic individuals to navigate through the world as safely, successfully, and happily as possible.  It isn’t our place- even as parents- to determine what that potential or happiness looks like.  That’s hard…but it’s true. 


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My name is Elizabeth Hepler and I’ve been a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist since 2005.  I am the mother of four great kids. Our household is neurodiverse: ADHD, Autism, Gifted, and more!

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