Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Puzzled and blue

Autism awareness. I can't say that I am overly pumped about the day, month or whatever, but I, my husband (the special needs teacher) and my kids are wearing blue t-shirts and we have the blue light bulbs. I have my puzzle piece necklace. I am writing for the first time in over a month. But mostly, I am parenting my kids, and trying not to stress out over the events of life.
 I feel like I have been phoning it in lately.
I feel like I need to explain what the symbols of awareness and acceptance mean to me. People get angry and upset over symbols that they interpret and associate with various causes and organizations.
Light it up blue: This campaign was begun by an organization that is controversial in the autism community and frankly detested by many, Autism Speaks. I don't endorse them. I don't like their negative and cure oriented mission, and I don't like that they exclude those who don't agree with their mission, including autistics themselves. They have served the purpose of raising awareness, but their fear mongering and focus on catastrophising the condition is unacceptable. Their endorsement of unproven and dangerous treatments and "cures" is appalling.
That said, I think that blue is as good a colour as any, and if someone asks why I have a blue light at my front door, it has served its purpose as a beacon for opening the discussion of autism, why awareness is important, how acceptance is best demonstrated, what autism is for my family.
If the colour blue is not for you, the rainbow is a great alternative to represent "the spectrum" but really has multiple associations with other groups and causes, the most notable being the GBLT community.
Four Sea Stars is a fantastic blog. You should check it out.
Puzzles and puzzle pieces: I'm not entirely clear if this originated with that same organization, but I love the puzzle piece. My take on it is this: the world is a puzzle, and all of us are pieces, we all fit somewhere, but some pieces are harder to find a place for than others. This isn't their fault, and they are still a part of the whole, absolutely necessary to complete the picture. They belong, and we can help them find their place.
I make and sell these in my Etsy store here:
(shameless plug)

I have no quarrel with those who eschew these symbols, or embrace others, like the butterfly, rainbow, and so on. I don't want to argue the symbolism. In conversation, or in your space (blog, Facebook pages, what have you) I will refrain from discussions of these symbols if they offend you.
Still, I want what the awareness and acceptance message hopes to achieve: a world where everyone's child is accepted for who they are, what they are. Where disability is just different ability, and accommodation is just the status quo. Where having traits and behaviours that are unusual but harmless is no big deal. Where help is available for everyone to achieve their ambitions and potential. Where assisted communication devices, weighted vests, ear protection and other useful assistive technologies are readily available, not notable, but as ordinary as cell phones, eyeglasses and umbrellas.
I am tired of being attacked or disdained for my use of symbols, and the way I chose to promote the cause. I really feel that my message is clear as I can make it. I am not attacking anyone with my love for my kids, my respect for their differences, my compassion for their struggles, my admiration for their successes.
So celebrate difference, accept people, help those who need it, accept help with dignity when you require it.
And if you have any questions about my blue t-shirt and light, my puzzle piece necklace or my son's behaviour, let me know. I am always happy to help one more person to understand autism, in as much as I understand it myself.


  1. I read a blog post recently by someone who hated the puzzle piece symbol. I had not really thought about it, but I love your take on it. It makes so much sense, and is such a positive way to look at the puzzle symbolism! I have an autism ribbon pin made with jigsaw patterned ribbon and actual puzzle pieces attached, and if anyone asks about it, I will be using your explanation!

  2. I don't go in much for confrontation, because I'm a giant wuss, so I don't say anything when people hate on the puzzle piece and such. If that's how they feel, that's cool. But, I'm with you. It's a good way to start a conversation. And I've got my blue lights, and I've been giving away puzzle piece earrings and pins to all my friendsies. So...yeah.

  3. Also, your necklace is awesome!