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Why Are Puzzle Pieces Used to Raise Autism Awareness?

By April 18, 2007

A student sent me this question, and I assumed I knew the answer: it's because autism is a puzzle that we're trying to solve. But- I could be wrong! Does anyone know where the puzzle-piece emblem comes from, or why it was created?

And on the same subject...what do you think of puzzle pieces as an emblem for autism spectrum disorders? Of course, it works beautifully if you're doing fundraising on behalf of research into causes, treatments, and potential cures. But I'm thinking that, if I were an adult on the spectrum, I might object to being represented as an insoluble enigma!

April 18, 2007 at 11:22 am
(1) Sandy says:

I think that is the correct answer. each child in themselves is a piece of that puzzle of autism.

I think the puzzle piece is cute, but prefer there awareness ribbon. I also only see the puzzle piece in blue, they might come in more than one color but I’ve only seen blue. I also believe it is part of Autism Speaks, where as the ribbon is Autism Society generated, at least that’s where my money went when I bought it :)

the puzzle piece is too abstract thinking for my child, I doubt he thinks of himself as a puzzle piece. I like the awareness ribbon, general population knows it’s for some type of awareness. a puzzle piece could appear to be just pretty jewelry.

May 23, 2011 at 12:39 am
(2) Bob says:

Sandy your flag waves beautifully with liberty and justice for all, but you cannot see my world as it really is for me; how dare you to even incinuate that you know what I think or any other person of the spectrum, please! I will tell you that the puzzle piece, to me, means absolutely everything. I’m asperger. I hope you come to appreciate it.

Bob in Houston

July 1, 2011 at 6:50 pm
(3) Joshua's Mommy&Daddy says:

Right on!! My husband and myself are new to this, but are learning quickly. Our son Joshua has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS, so again we are still learning. We fully appreciate the symbolism of the Autism Awareness ribbon and puzzle piece, but are still trying to (for lack of better words) put it together. We are always open for insight and suggestions. I hope that soon we will be able to know the meaning for our family what the puzzle piece is. We fell in love with the “Distracted Duck” logo, and are adopting it as our own. Thank you for your response to the above comment. Your courage speaks volumes as to your character!

April 18, 2007 at 10:18 pm
(4) Cynthia Whitfield says:

People with autism are a puzzle — there is so much we don’t know. I don’t think it offensive.

April 19, 2007 at 3:03 pm
(5) James Hoffman says:

My grandson has Autism Spectrum. We need to offend as many people as it takes to get the attention focused on this eppidemic. Judging from the national news lately, people that offend someone seem to get all the coverage.

Thanks for listening.

April 19, 2007 at 5:57 pm
(6) Jessica says:

The puzzle piece symbolizes a single trait of autism, not a person. All of the puzzle pieces are different and the resulting picture is different for each person. While we work to solve this puzzle we must appreciate the different colors and pictures. I think that it’s a beautiful representation of misunderstanding and differences among people.

January 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm
(7) Debbie says:

I think yours is the most accurate of the whole picture of autism. I am new to autism and from what I’ve learned about the disease, it will be a long time before we fully understand it.

April 21, 2007 at 9:33 pm
(8) Jay Serna says:

An early slogan asked people to “help solve the puzzle”.

July 22, 2007 at 5:43 pm
(9) Jack says:

Autism is a puzzle that can’t be completed unlill we find the missing piece. The piece represents a understanding of why, and ultimatly a cure.

July 31, 2007 at 11:13 pm
(10) Paul says:

As a parent of an Autistic child I have little knowledge on this topic. Yes, the obvious meaning is as you had described. Although there are a few underlying meanings as well, one being is that a high percentage of children with Autism play with puzzles. The reason being, puzzles are a 1 person game that do not rely on any interaction from anyone else. The interpretation of Autism comes from Latin defined as “oneself”. Another reason for the puzzle piece is to create this very dialogue.

September 18, 2007 at 10:05 am
(11) josh says:

I worked at a golf course a couple years back and the special olympics was held there. they gave the people that worked at the coarse tee shirts with turtels on it My question is, what do the turtels represent. :)

November 3, 2007 at 11:50 pm
(12) jeff says:

teh puzzle piece itself represents the complexity and mysteriousness of the disorder. The different colors represent the different colors and backgrounds of people affected. Other than male dominated, its an equal opportunity disorder.

November 24, 2007 at 11:51 am
(13) Denise says:

Here is how I see it. My Daughter is the best gift God could have ever given to me. Even with her Autism. She is a puzzle you never know where the next one is going. Anyone put a puzzle together to see the pretty picture in the end. Well I know once all the pieces come together. Everyone will see just how beautiful and smart these childern are. Don’t focus on the Autism, focus on the child. The ribbon is also very pretty, But I happen to like the puzzle if they were all the same color form so it would stand out more for what it means.

November 24, 2007 at 12:05 pm
(14) LIsa says:

My Girlfriend Denise’s Daughter is complexed but that is what makes her who she is and who she will be. A puzzle never knowing what you will see next or how it will fit in but somehow it always does find a way. I love her Daughter she is a blessing to all those who meet her and with her comedy attitude she is a joy. You have no idea how your life is blessed with a child with Autism. They are not the ones who need help we are. Becuase the quote normal people always want to make things perfect. I Do think God is showing us that perfect is not perfect it is Autism. And to except all people for whom God has made us all special in one way or another. Autism is not a curse but a gift, to us. If you learn about it you can live with it. I am so tired of everyone complaining how bad it is. It’s not if you live by 1st Corrintians 13.

March 9, 2008 at 8:31 am
(15) Roy says:

The puzzle pattern reflects the mystery and complexity of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the individuals (and their families) effected. The brightness of the colors symbolizes hope – through research, increased awareness, understanding and acceptance.

October 21, 2008 at 3:48 pm
(16) Susan says:

From the ASA website:
The Autism Awareness Ribbon – The puzzle pattern reflects the mystery and complexity of the autism spectrum. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope—hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and appropriate treatments, people with autism will lead fuller, more complete lives.

March 16, 2009 at 10:17 am
(17) Alicia says:

I’m a university student doing a Presentation for a funding Proposal for Autism. We found out after making a logo with puzzle pieces that it was actually already used as a logo for Autism. What I always took it to mean and the way that I intended it was that we are all unique, like pieces of a puzzle, autistic children are unique, but that we all fit together in the end no matter how differently able we are. We are all part of the bigger picture.

I didn’t even consider it to be a puzzle to solve, mostly because I try not to think of it as a disease, rather as a different way of looking at the world :)
Hope this is helpful

April 3, 2009 at 11:39 pm
(18) Mollie says:

I am an ABA teacher for children with Autism and I was just asked this question for the first time tonight and didn’t know the answer! It inspired me to research the puzzle piece and its meaning and I was surprised to find there isnt much information on it! I have loved everything I have read about what everyone has to say and I think it makes perfect sense. Autism IS a big puzzle that needs to be solved and one day hopefully will be! Also there are a lot of missing pieces that need to be found in order to solve it.

April 11, 2009 at 2:39 pm
(19) Gillian says:

I am in the spectrum myself, and I’m not at all offended by the puzzle piece representation.
I think it’s a beautiful and truthful metaphor and I don’t understand why people get so antsy by it.

April 18, 2009 at 8:12 pm
(20) Pat says:

I have silver puzzle pieces I attach to jewlery with a saying on it.

“One day all the pieces will fit”.

That one saying could represent a lot of groups and individuals, but I have always liked it for Autism.

May 20, 2009 at 8:45 pm
(21) Ben says:

I have autism and i guess you could be right with the whole solving the puzzle thing. However i see it as we, as autistic children are our own puzzles with original pieces. no two autistic children can be treated the same way because things come together differently for each of us.

September 18, 2009 at 1:34 pm
(22) Rich Shull says:

Autism is Both Mr/DD and Einstein. Autism is the simply the building block thoughts that happen during the lack of eye contact that older autistic like me, figured out on our own.(more often) I was once hailed as the next Temple Grandin.

Sadly the sub level thoughts we learned have never been in a text book before and figured out Autism yields normal thoughts / Normal thoughts are Autism Shorthand so the “cure to autism” lower down in the gene pool than the professionals are looking.

Rich Shull- Inventor of the Turing Motor a autistically designed Green single spinning cylinder triple hybird car motor. It is named for Alan Turing (1912-1954) he was Autistic and Father of the Computer. Author of the Book Autism Pre Rain Man Autism Built on Temple’s Thinking in Pictures

November 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm
(23) Paul Johnson says:

I am on the spectrum and I agree with you completely. I am NOT mysterious. I am not a mystery! To call me and my brethren on the spectrum a mystery is insulting, and offensive. The matter is simple. I would like to approach any and every body that I meet with a certain degree of curiousity and wonder about them. When I meet somebody I would like to understand them from their perspective and have them show me who they are. There is no mysterious people. There are some fish that live 30, 000 ft below sea level-they are mysterious. You meet people and talk with people and dine with people. WE ARE NOT A MYSTERY !
If people approach us to understand us they simply would-case closed. The issue is that most neurotypical people insist on expecting us to be like them and will try to make ASD more like them. This is where the fundamental problem lie. Seeing us for who we are is not a problem at all.
If I were to insult that a group of people like females or Jewish people or Blind people were a mystery it would cause an outrage.
So we need to be sensitive here and think this through.

If we were to really think about what the symbol represent it represents each ASD individual standing alone waiting for the rest of the picture-puzzle to fit around us to complete our lives and give us meaning. The rest of the puzzle is represented by the rest of society accepting at our essential self !

November 5, 2009 at 9:28 pm
(24) Kyle Pickard says:

I heard that autistic kids could solve puzzles picture first. Ones with this capability have been said to need only ONE glance at the picture on the box, after which they sort through all the pieces, steadily piecing together an image out of the assortment. They do not use the “outside in” strategy see post by Diwakar M on:


May 11, 2010 at 9:51 am
(25) skip mcwilliams says:

As an autistic adult, with an autistic sister, nephew, mom, dad, great grandfather etc. I do not see autism either as an enigma nor a disorder thank you. We represent a legitimate human variation, in ways superior to other human variations. The extreme ignorance o f those who deign to look down on us and label us defective is offensive to the extreme. Remember when black was considered inferior, and homosexuality was considered a disorder? It’s like that. Thank God, I have used my autistic gifts to become comparatively well off financially, so that people stopped calling me crazy and weird. Now they just call me eccentric. Yeesh! Society’s consensus reality led by the “scientific and academic elites” is still barbaric and dangerous.
Sincerely Skip McWilliams
American Eagle Companies

June 22, 2011 at 12:25 am
(26) Laurie says:

I agree with you. I am complex, and I am different; that does not make me a puzzle that needs to be solved, or a disorder that needs to be cured.

So many of them I have found worship tolerance and peace because they cannot imagine having any tolerance for anyone different short of an act of God, and have never willingly given anyone outside the group a moment’s peace.

I too am seen as eccentric, and am happy to have at long last found a very few who can see me for who I am, and value that. Without them my world would be much darker.

The rest of them, however, believe that mirroring and subconscious consensus equal empathy, and appoint themselves judge, jury and executioner for anyone they can project a negative stereotype onto. We don’t need a cure, they do.

- A Unique Individual, Not A Puzzle Piece

June 17, 2010 at 10:35 pm
(27) Holly Reynolds says:

My son is on the spectrum and I’m undiagnosed, but realized.

I would not give all the money in the world to “cure” who I am and who my son is.

I had someone say to me recently “If you’ve met one Aspie…you’ve met one Aspie!”

What we need a cure for is ignorance and fear. I have very valuable assets to share with the world and I wouldn’t call that a “disorder”, I’d call it a blessing.

July 5, 2010 at 11:14 pm
(28) Brittany_Cuesta says:

The puzzle piece symbolizes each and every case of autism. Autism in itself is like puzzle pieces, not one case is similar to another and each is beautiful in its own way; however, like a puzzle, the pieces of autism fit together and create a beautiful and rewarding picture that has the possibility to teach a lesson, and make a difference.

July 15, 2010 at 11:34 am
(29) Cathy says:

I love the puzzle piece symbol. It says it all to represent autism, each one is different and unique, but really we are all the same in the big picture in the end are we not. The puzzle piece could relate to each and every one of us. It is a blue piece for autism, but couldn’t it be a symbol used for any medical disorder but maybe a different colour representing ie; diabetes, kidney disorder, deafness, cancer, CP, etc. We so called “normal” individuals can be grumpy, unforgiving, angry, moody, stressful, worry about $, get stressed at jobs or relationships etc. I truly do not think those autistic children/adults do, many are fortunate to just Love Life and even the more challenged do have happy moments. Sometimes I feel it is us so called normal people and our environments make it hard for the Special Children that God has given us. Maybe it is our own life style and expectations that stresses them out!
I know that my son with PDD-NOS (14) needed me for various reasons, but after he passed away unexpectably, I now know that even more than that I needed him. He was always Loving, Happy and Enjoyed Life and made me Happy and I Enjoyed Life Also being with him.

July 30, 2010 at 1:57 am
(30) Sarina says:

I was asked this question by a guest I waited on at the place I work because of the bracelet I wear for my two nephews who are both autistic, my answer was that the puzzle pieces represent the way each autistic child thinks, they have all these pieces but can’t quite fit them into the same puzzle that is our world. My nephews are two of the most amazing young men I have ever met in my life and I look at them and see them as having all the right pieces to the puzzle, but so amazingly smart that the puzzle they have the pieces for just isn’t quite developed enough to make their pieces fit. Obviously this puzzle being our society and world and the pieces being every child like my nephews who dispite popular judgement, have ALL the right pieces, WE just haven’t found a place good enough for them to place them and until we do the pieces will not match…

August 13, 2010 at 1:00 am
(31) tscovel says:

I see the pieces as a symbol of the fact that we don’t know what actually causes autism, there is a missing piece… to the puzzle.

August 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm
(32) Roxanne says:

I don’t like the puzzle piece thing at all. I get what it’s supposed to mean, and that’s not so bad (you know, the idea that the pieces represent the “disorder” not the people). But the actual picture with the one puzzle piece off by itself and then all these other pieces connected-I think that’s terrible and here’s why…I think to people who know nothing about ASD it could easily be seen as themselves being one of the connected pieces who fit in nicely with everyone else and then the person with ASD being the piece that doesnt’ quite fit in. I know it’s not meant to be that way, but I think that’s the message that most comes across. All of my kids are different, not just the one with ASD, I don’t need him separated out from the rest of us in any way.

September 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm
(33) Susan says:

My students saw me wearing a Silly Band today and asked what it was. I told them that it is a puzzle piece used to represent autism. They asked my “why” (why it represents autism), and I told them I didn’t know (I know now after doing research – - the puzzle of autism). I told them, though, that it could represent that we could all be pieces to a big beautiful picture… each piece is different, and no one piece really fits in someone else’s spot. That’s the beauty of a puzzle: all the pieces fit together and work together, yet your puzzle piece won’t fit in my spot and my puzzle piece won’t fit into your spot. What matters is that we are all so important, and we are all needed to help create the picture. All pieces together create a beauty that we may not be able to see at first, but the beauty is there. Tolerance and understanding of all people is important (even if someone else’s puzzle piece doesn’t look like my or your puzzle piece).

Tomorrow I will share with my students what I found the puzzle piece actually represents.

November 23, 2010 at 1:11 am
(34) Mer says:

I am a mother of two sons with autism. There seems to be a lot of dissension about autism being an enigma, mystery, or even a disability or disorder. As a “neurotypical” adult, I have to say that it truly *is* a mystery and an enigma to me. I can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be on the spectrum, or male, a different race or ethnicity. Those are all mysteries to me. It doesn’t mean that person is less of a person – only that I can’t understand exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes.

Regarding autism as a disability or disorder – I have so much inner conflict about this. One the one hand, it’s hard to look at my children – both obviously so far behind their peers in many, many things, and have some serious neurological and developmental situations that make living day to day living difficult – and not see their situation as a disorder. No one means anything by that word. We only want to learn how to parent our children in a way that will help them learn, in their own special way, how to carry on day to day life – feeding, dressing, bathing, etc, so they can enjoy and improve their quality of life as much as possible.

On the other hand, I find myself wondering why we as society are so focused on forcing children with autism to fit into a cookie-cutter mold of how people are “supposed” to function, learn, and ultimately, thrive. Who’s to say they can’t do it in their own way?

So, in conclusion, regarding the puzzle piece symbol – it seems very appropriate to me, given the complexities of the autism spectrum, the inability for me and others not on the spectrum to fully understand the mind of one on the spectrum, and many stigmas and societal pressures that exist surrounding this issue. It is, like many things in life, a puzzle. Puzzles are not bad. Even when we don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle – those “missing” pieces – that’s where we fill in the gaps with love, patience, understanding, and an open mind.

December 15, 2010 at 12:18 am
(35) Kristan Miller says:

Puzzle pieces come together to create a picture. I believe that each piece of the puzzle represents those individuals with Autism and the people in their lives that help them – direct care workers, teachers, parents, brothers, sisters, etc. After time, when all the pieces come together a beautiful puzzle has been built to form a picture. It is a picture in which the individual with Autism is living the fullest, least restrictive life possible….and yes, every picture is unique and wonderful!

January 5, 2011 at 8:58 pm
(36) Pan says:

I am on the spectrum, and I am not a puzzle. Neurotypical people may find me puzzling, but they do not get to define who or what I am. The whole thing just smacks of neurotypical privilege – of the view that because NTs may find NNTs puzzling, NNTs therefore ARE puzzling by definition, even to the point of NNTs being symbolized by puzzle pieces. It also implies that the “puzzle” should be “put together,” – that is, that a “solution” or cure should be found for autism. I will have none of it.

June 2, 2011 at 3:16 am
(37) Venna says:

The puzzle piece is to represent the mysteries of autism; Cause, why so many different characteristics, why some children get it and other don’t and why the difference in severity. The puzzle piece isn’t supposed to mean that people who have autism are a puzzle, but that autism itself is a puzzle. One we are working toward solving. I want to get a puzzle piece scarf to wear, but I can’t afford one right now.

The blue is the official color of autism. April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day and the theme is ‘Light it Up blue’. Meaning companies, buildings, etc, that are supporting autism awareness have blue lights on. Google ‘light it up blue’ and click the first link there to see a slide show of all the buildings around the world who ‘lit it up blue’ this year for autism. It makes me cry every time I watch it. It helps me know I’m not alone and others are in this fight with me.

July 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm
(38) judi says:

They don’t quite fit!

September 14, 2011 at 8:03 am
(39) tracey says:

As a mum of a young daughter with Autism – I like what the puzzle piece represents to me. Autism is the puzzle, not the person. There is a missing piece of the Autism puzzle as a disorder. A person on the spectrum is not the puzzle. They are two seperate things to me – Autism and then there’s my daughter. Yes, she is autistic but she’s also my daughter and I don’t need to ‘solve’ her.

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