I am not a puzzle

Warning: Some may find this post offensive, but it is not intended to be. This is how I feel, and I think it’s important during Autism Awareness Month to share my perspective as an autistic adult.

As the prevalence of autism increases, so do the number of puzzle pieces and puzzle piece awareness ribbons on T-shirts, websites, jewelry, car magnets, etc. The things are everywhere, and they are a recognized symbol of autism. While I appreciate the awareness being raised, I struggle with the emblem.

Why? Because it says that I am a puzzle, something that needs to be solved. Many people use the symbolism of the puzzle piece as a kind of metaphor for the search for a cure. If they could just find that missing piece, they could cure autism. Long-time readers of this blog know that I am not in favor of a cure.

Autism is not a disease. I am not a puzzle.

Yes, I have an autism spectrum disorder. Yes, it makes life difficult for me and my family. No, I don’t want to be cured or have my autism taken away.

I’m sure that last one is confusing to a lot of people, both autistic and neurotypical (non-autistic). Unlike some autistics, I see autism as a different way of life. My brain is wired differently than a neurotypical brain, but that doesn’t mean I’m broken. It means I’m different. Being different has allowed me to think in ways others don’t, see the world in ways others miss, and have a wonderful imagination that has allowed me to become an author. Despite all the difficulties, I like who I am.

I know I confuse people, and they struggle to understand me. But does anyone ever truly know everything there is to know about another person? Do all neurotypicals think in the exact same way or experience the world in an identical manner?

Since they aren’t clones or robots, the answer is no. Everyone is different, with their own unique personalities. People on the autism spectrum are the same. We’re all individuals with our own unique traits. Yes, we share some similarities that set us apart from neurotypicals, but if the majority of the population was autistic, neurotypicals would be the odd ones. Does that mean there is something wrong with not being autistic? No, it just means that your brain is wired differently.

Accepting those differences and learning to live with them is what raising awareness should be about. Treating autism like a disease that needs to be cured or acting like a person on the autism spectrum is broken and needs to be fixed is degrading and hurtful. It makes me feel as though I’m somehow less in society because I was born with a brain that’s wired differently from most.

The puzzle pieces and the meaning behind them just highlights that feeling and lets me know that society has a long way to go before autism awareness becomes autism acceptance.

I am not a puzzle to be solved. I am a person with feelings and dreams and a unique personality.

Let’s turn Autism Awareness Month into Autism Acceptance Month. Once autistics are accepted as being a part of society that isn’t going away, perhaps the focus on finding what causes autism and searching for a cure will change into something that will help autistics, such as support and services to help those of us on the autism spectrum overcome or circumvent our challenges so that we might have the fulfilling lives every human deserves.

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2 thoughts on “I am not a puzzle

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, EA. I believe you have an excellent point – you are not broken, simply unique in the same way that my brown almond shaped eyes set me apart from my school classmates. You have learned to use your uniqueness in a very productive way, but without more research and training, lots of other young autistic child will not be as fortunate as you.

    1. Thanks for your comment! You’ve brought up an important point. More training is essential for parents, teachers, bosses, etc. to be able to accept the differences of autistics and learn how to cope with them and help autistics learn to cope with daily life.

      In some ways I am more fortunate than other autistics. After all, I’m high functioning and capable of expressing my thoughts and needs in a way others can easily understand. But in other ways I’m less fortunate. When I was a child, autism diagnoses were rare and many of us high-functioning autistics were labeled as quirky or shy and our challenges were ignored. That meant no social skills training, no assistance at school, no therapies to help us learn to navigate the world around us, no help for our parents to know how to help us.

      I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult, so I had a lifetime of struggling to understand how social interaction worked, where I fit into society, and wondering what was wrong with me since I never fit in anywhere and I struggled with so many things most people didn’t seem to notice. That late diagnosis is also working against me now, making it impossible to find assistance outside my family to help me navigate daily life.

      I’m not alone in my struggles, since many high-functioning autistic adults face the same challenges finding and qualifying for support, especially if they weren’t diagnosed as children. This is why I encourage spending money on support services rather than research into possible causes of autism (there are dozens, if not hundreds of risk factors already identified) or a cure, which I’m completely against. I’m finally seeing a push toward increasing funding and support services to help adults on the spectrum, but there’s still a long way to go before everyone who needs assistance receives it.

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