Symbols of Autism and Neurodiversity

Whenever I see pictures and inspiring quotes relating to autism, I often see symbols attached to them. The most common is the jigsaw puzzle piece symbol and probably the one symbol that is most associated with the autism spectrum. The puzzle piece ribbon was first shown in 1999 by the Autism Society and has been loaned to other voluntary organisations as a show of unity between autistic causes. The symbol itself has received somewhat of a mixed response since its conception, some feel it is an awareness raising tool whilst others view it as a gesture of segregation and the notion of feeling “different”.

The Autism Rights Movement have invented a symbol of their own, a rainbow-coloured infinity symbol representing the diversity of the autism spectrum and the wider neurodiversity movement. Neurodiversity is something I love the idea of. That we all have different cognitive strengths as opposed to a set criteria of “normal” published in medical diagnostic manuals. When training as a social worker; I learned a lot about the medical versus social models of disability. At the time, I didn’t think about what this would mean for me but I have done in recent months. Medical models of disability deal with pathologies and could view autism as a disorder that needs to be treated or cured. Within the social model, it encourages and promotes differing abilities without making people feel somewhat “diseased” or outside of the human blueprint.

From my perspective of human nature, no social groupings have survived with an “us and them” mentality. For me “us” means those on the autistic spectrum and “them” those who are not. I spent my entire life feeling like I was segregated and too different to have the most meaningful and precious things from life. I thought my mother would have to be at my side until the day and hour one of us died as I was just “too different” to be alone. What would a symbol mean for me? Attaching symbols to groups has also had negative consequences although with this case I think there are many more hearts in the right place. Or are there?

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