Who Owns the Puzzle Piece?
A few months ago, I excitedly announced the publication of my first book “Moving Forward: Reflections on Autism, Neurodiversity, Brain Surgery and Faith”. It shares my journey between the worlds of autism, neurodiversity, brain surgery recovery, and faith- with the hope that it will enlighten parents, professionals, and family members to better understand and assist the neurodiverse people whom they work with and love.
“Moving Forward” enables you to step into my shoes- as a parent of neurodiverse children, and as a survivor of complex brain surgery, which causes me to experience firsthand the types of sensory irregularities common in people with neurodiversity; including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Irlen Syndrome, Auditory Processing Disorder.
The cover design features a colorful illustration that reflects this journey. It metaphorically represents a mother and son working together to piece together a challenging puzzle, the puzzle of life. The pieces are falling from the sky, representing knowledge, inspiration, faith and insights. The mother reaches up to catch them and then passes them along to her child in a manner that helps him to make sense of them. He, in turn, works hard to help her fit the pieces together. They both grow and gain understanding as they accept the challenge together, and, as in life, the puzzle becomes more complete as they progress.
A few days after publication, someone wrote the following comment on my Facebook page @jackisbooks: “Autistic people are not puzzle pieces!”. I immediately thought: “Of course they aren’t! Why on earth would anyone think I would consider autistic people to be puzzle pieces?”
Since then, I have received additional comments of this nature, as well as “helpful” suggestions to change the cover design, in order to avoid offending people on the spectrum or in the neurodiversity/neurodivergent movement.
For the past thirty years, I have been living in Israel, unaware of the highly charged politics around puzzle pieces and autism in America (and perhaps throughout the world). I couldn’t understand why some people became so irate when they saw my book cover- until I saw the ads by Autism Speaks- at which point I joined the ranks of the offended and furious. Their use of the puzzle piece to represent autistic people as being deficient, ill, or requiring “fixing” is the exact opposite of what puzzle pieces mean to me, and is in contrast to their historic metaphoric usage.
Puzzle pieces have been around for ages and they have been used metaphorically in many different ways. It is well known that every metaphor and every piece of art takes on a different meaning, depending on who is interpreting it. I therefore would like to propose to the autistic and neurodiverse/neurodivergent community- rather than taking offense at the use of puzzle pieces- Let’s reclaim them!
I do not believe that puzzles or puzzle pieces should be off-limits simply because Autism Speaks has decided to attach a negative meaning to them, and particularly because they have chosen to brand them in a manner that is contrary to their traditional metaphoric usage. I would like to refute this irrational and unfortunate type of branding, as I do not believe that any organization has the right to claim that puzzle pieces represent illness, misery or as “a problem that needs to be solved” or perhaps eliminated. This is the antithesis of what puzzles have represented historically and the use of this image in this manner is both improper and belittling.
So, I suggest that we, as part of the neurodiverse/neurodivergent and autistic community, disassociate ourselves from their attempt to take ownership of this metaphor, and we reclaim it in order to create a new, empowering and inclusive metaphor for ourselves. Perhaps instead of seeing individual pieces as representing something negative, we can imagine them to reflect the incredible diversity and beauty that each individual brings to the world, and when the pieces begin to join together, they form a wonderful, diverse and colorful tapestry that represents the human condition.