Why we should no longer use the “puzzle piece”

Written by Anna Dubiak, M.S, CCC-SLP
Duncan Lake Speech Therapy, LLC

Why we should not use the puzzle piece anymore.

The neurotypical world at large has come into the unfortunately novel idea that in order to better serve a given population we should listen to the population. An ideology we should have learned long before recent years. This is being realized particularly with autistic community and what it means to be a neuro-affirming provider for this community. While for years many providers in healthcare were taught to use person first language (person with autism), to wave the puzzle piece flag, and light it up blue for autism awareness we are seeing the harmful and even traumatizing effects these ideologies have behind them. One of the biggest symbols that has been tied with autism is the puzzle piece, as as previously stated, we have come to realize a largely negative connotation associated with this symbol.

Let’s dive into the history behind the puzzle piece and why it has fallen out of favor.

The ideology behind the puzzle piece is that autistic people are “puzzling”. Basically that they have pieces missing or out of order and in effect need the support of “good-natured neurotypicals” to help put them back in order. As if that is not enough it promotes the idea that autism needs to be cured or fixed. Also this imagery largely negates the adult and aging autistic community, it centers the topic of children. Perhaps this is largely why medical professionals have been ignoring the voice of the autistic community, because we are forgetting to include autistic adults in the discussion.

What symbol can I use instead?

The autistic has largely adopted the infinity symbol for autism and neurodivergence in general. Often this infinity symbol is either rainbow or at times gold. This newer symbol helped to give understanding on the “diversity” in neurodiversity and show that people are not puzzles waiting to be solved but rather a wide range of possibilities.



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