The history of the jigsaw puzzle piece, in relation to autism, is one fraught with controversy. Consequently, I have avoided using any of the more well-known icons that you will see if you spend any time at all looking at autism charities or fundraising events across the world. I hope that the icon I’ve chosen gives you a sense of why the puzzle piece is viewed negatively by autistic people, without it being as offensive as some.

Let me explain… In the early 1960s the National Autistic Society introduced a single puzzle piece with a sad and crying child on it as their logo. They chose this, it is claimed, because autism is a ‘puzzling’ condition. That may sound harmless enough, it can be puzzling to us at times too! However, this exacerbated an already a very negative association with autism – that those with autism have something missing – a missing piece of the puzzle. And that the solution was to solve this ‘puzzling’ problem and fix us.

In the decades since, multiple charities across the world have adapted and expanded on this idea of the puzzle piece. It remains the most widely spread visual representation of autistic people in its various forms – from the puzzle piece ribbon, the heart, even still to the brain – with missing pieces. One Google images search will find scores of them. Whereas the original was in somber black and green, current icons employ rainbow colours in an effort to reflect the autism ‘spectrum’ and the diversity of people within our neurotype. However, the puzzle piece remains extremely unpopular with most neurodivergent people 1) because of its history and 2) because of the implication that we need to be solved, rather than accepted for who we naturally are.

The icon preferred by many neurodivergents is the infinity symbol ← click here to read more about it.