The Beguiling Puzzle Pieces of Autism


April is National Autism Month, and one visual you’ll likely see is the puzzle piece. After reading many blogs, I was flabbergasted by how many people actually vehemently loathe the logo. One young lady who has autism said, “I hate the puzzle piece with every fiber of my being.” Also one mum of a child on the spectrum commented, “I also hate it because it makes me feel that my son is abnormal, that he can’t fit into society.”

My question is what’s the big deal?

The puzzle piece originated as a National Autistic Society symbol in 1963, which at that time stated, “The puzzle piece is so effective because it tells us something about autism: our children are handicapped by a puzzling condition; this isolates them from normal human contact and therefore they do not ‘fit in.’”

The puzzle piece has since then co-opted by many autism organizations such as the controversial Autism Speaks. After many evolutions over the years, today it is used to symbolize the idea that autistic people are difficult to comprehend (like a puzzle) and that the "cure" for autism is the missing piece.

However, after reading a recent op-ed in Time magazine by Jeffrey Lurie, chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles, who stated, “What do football, political polarization and autism have in common? They all illuminate aspects of the human condition, explaining who we are, where we are headed and the hurdles along the way,” I came to one conclusion, Mr. Lurie you hit the nail on the head.

As a mother of a child on the spectrum, I will tell you that autism is a puzzle, and for folks to go lambasting people and organizations who embrace the puzzle logo is just ridiculous.

Why is autism a puzzle? Can someone explain to me why in the last two years my eight-year-old daughter stopped speaking? When she was 18 months, she used to count to 10, sing the ABC song, say, “mummy,” “daddy,” “chips,” “water,” “please,” “thank you.” Where did all that go?

And if she is supposedly ‘low-functioning’ because she is non-verbal, how is she able to skateboard and roller blade like a pro? How is she able to understand directions? Why is my little girl built like a brick house with muscular abs and limbs, and amazing agility, yet with all this strength, why can’t she draw a simple linear line? Why more than ever, do we have to watch her like a hawk because she recently started putting all sorts of random objects in her mouth, which she never did before.

So yes autism is a puzzling mystery. And as Lurie expressed, society’s polarization just makes it all the more harder for us who are struggling to understand autism, build awareness, amidst all the challenges.

As human beings, so-called neurotypical or not, we are also puzzles. You know how many times at night, I have stared at the ceiling, asking God, where in the sam hill my life is going? After living on my own in London, Manchester, Boston, Trinidad, how did I end up moving back home with my parents, frustrated that I can’t do more to help my daughter. Sometimes, I even implore God to take all my limbs in exchange for a blessing of her speech.

We are all puzzles, but the beautiful aspect of autism is that every day some pieces start to interlock, and we learn and grow together. So instead of all this rabble-rousing about a puzzle piece, why can’t we just collaborate and do everything we can to help our loved ones with autism?

When I look at my daughter, I see the most beautiful puzzle in the world. Her hair is like a lush waterfall of curls, her eyelashes are so long, they could probably bat a fly. Her enchanting beauty and abilities puzzle me.

I can’t wait for more of the puzzle pieces to start interlocking so my daughter discovers more about herself. While, I don’t agree with the notion that the last puzzle piece is the “cure” for autism, I wholeheartedly embrace it because it is a symbol that emulates her “artistic” wonders.

The next Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Families support group will meet Thursday, April 27, 7 p.m. at Willderness Yard, located at 99-04A Rockaway Beach Blvd. We have quite an itinerary!

Also in honor of National Autism Awareness Month, come out and enjoy a night of Rockaway music and entertainment on Saturday, April 29th hosted by Jon Kiebon at Brendan's bar, located at 112-08 Rockaway Beach Blvd.

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