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AUTISM AND THE PUZZLE PIECE

April 2nd is National Autism Awareness Day. Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is something most of us have heard of or know someone affected by the condition. Still, most of us do not have much of an understanding of ASD. Have you ever been curious as to why the puzzle piece is the symbol for Autism? It is a story with a lot of information that is worth knowing. 

The term Autism is frequently used in modern society, but due to the complexities of ASD, many are not sure precisely what Autism Spectrum Disorder is. Research is uncovering more information all of the time about the condition. The CDC has this definition on their webpage:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

What does ASD look like? That is a complicating aspect of the spectrum. While some with ASD may be apparent, others you may never know. Some with ASD may be socially challenged, unable to speak or interact, and need significant attention. Others function as professionals working beside you daily or even as your boss. Every person’s ASD profile is unique. Regardless of their place on the spectrum, those with ASD add a special aspect to the lives they contact.

In 1963 the National Autism Society of London adopted the puzzle piece as a symbol of the condition. Gerald Gasson advanced it as he felt it was a “puzzling” condition, thought to be exceptionally rare. Over time the identification of the puzzle piece with Autism became synonymous as more Autism organizations adopted it. Funding from these groups has advanced diagnosis and understanding of the frequency and signs of the condition. It is estimated today that 1 in 54 children have ASD. The various organizations seeking to bring awareness and assistance to the issue, have all used the puzzle piece symbol, attributing their individual meanings. There are ribbons, hearts, and blocks made of brightly colored puzzle pieces. Due to the differing philosophies of the groups, intense feelings have arisen. While many still use the puzzle piece as all or part of their logo, some feel alienated by it and feel that it marks them as tragic and defective. Some are advocating a rainbow infinity symbol to reflect the spectrum.

We at Dowdle love the puzzle piece image, obviously. To us, each puzzle piece is uniquely beautiful and necessary to the successful completion of the puzzle. The differences we each bring to life’s abundant mosaic are essential. When people assemble a puzzle, be it 300, 500, or 1000 and find one piece missing, it creates a good deal of stress, and believe me, we hear about it. Suddenly the other 999 or 499 pieces are wanting because of the missing one. We are all pieces of life’s puzzle, and each has a role to play, and when a piece is missing, it matters even one of millions or billions. We believe in the worth of the individual. To us, there are no missing pieces. It is our hope that we will each take the occasion of National Autism Awareness Day to strive to give understanding and support to all those around us, whether or not we can see their unique needs. Every piece matters.


12 comments


  • Bree Constance

    Thank you for sharing this endearing message and including a bit of the history, as well as, the acknowledgement that the widely recognized puzzle piece icon is not necessarily a favorite to all. Within our family though… where my grandfather, several multi-generational relatives, and my own son have ASD… the puzzle piece (as well as the implementation of the ‘ASD’ terminology) — is a much loved, and appreciated, representation of their condition. Not only because working together on puzzles has been an important way for us to spend time and connect with each other, but for the same reasons that you so eloquently put in to words… every piece is essential, every piece matters.
    So, thank you for providing many hours to our ‘family puzzle time’ — for my son’s 27th birthday on the 8th, he will be receiving another Dowdle to add to his collection!


  • Jennifer Brooks

    I have friends who have autism or have children who have autism. One of the designations they do not like is “autism spectrum” because of the scattering of manifestations, distinct from a continuum, that occur in autism. I thought you should see this, the second such image I’ve noticed this month. https://scontent-den4-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.6435-9/54220501_445025092704885_1751856708373708800_n.jpg?nc_cat=103&ccb=1-3&nc_sid=2c4854&_nc_ohc=RJkcsxiTRg0AX92DNZ3&ncht=scontent-den4-1.xx&oh=c5a175fe36776ae0c81c9b5eaa44e127&oe=608FD850. Sorry, I couldn’t get the picture to copy directly. Even if you moderate this comment out, please look at the link and consider the implications. We love Dowdle puzzles in this house, but be aware that the puzzle piece as a symbol for autism isn’t universally embraced.


  • Kent Langston

    Very nice message and so true! Everyone of us is unique, beautiful and important!


  • Pat Guyer

    This information was well worth the pass on.
    I have 2 friends with autistic children: one a child of 6-8 years old and the other in his 40s.
    The oldest was not officially rested and diagnosed, but it is apparent in his behavior and demeanor.
    Hew has a nephew on the spectrum, also.
    Puzzles have always intrigued me, so the puzzle piece as a symbol for the condition see s to be appropriate to me.
    Thank you for your fine artwork and these quality puzzles!


  • Patty Taylor

    We bought our first puzzle oddly enough at Costco. I then came home and ordered four more, of which we are waiting for their arrival. Puzzles are great for my son who was diagnosed with the age of 2 1/2 and he is now 35 years old. What is fun is we both approach putting a puzzle together differently… I like getting all the edge pieces together and he likes starting from the middle 😊🧩


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