You may know that April is Autism Awareness Month, but have you ever wondered when World Autism Awareness Day began, why the puzzle piece symbol has become synonymous with autism, or why the color blue? If so, then you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll explore the history of the Autism puzzle piece and other well-known symbols of Autism Awareness.
World Autism Awareness Day – When and Why?
Saturday, April 2, 2016 marks the eighth year of World Autism Awareness Day. The day was formally designated by the United Nations on December 18, 2007, so the first official World Autism Awareness Day celebrations took place on April 2, 2008.
The purpose of the day is to raise awareness for this common condition while inspiring an end to the discrimination and prejudice often faced by those our autism community. It was created within a human rights context, and has helped to raise funds and educate the public regarding the realities of autism. At present, the CDC estimates that autism occurs at a rate of 1 in 68 children in America.
The Autism Puzzle Piece
The well-known autism puzzle piece symbol first came into use in the United Kingdom in 1963, when the organization currently known as the National Autistic Society (NAS) began using it as a logo. The graphic was designed to indicate the puzzling, confusing nature of autism. The original logo included an image of a weeping child in the center.
Image: Original NAS logo (1963)
While the NAS has since changed their logo, the puzzle piece image remains popular within the autism community. Many believe that it appropriately expresses the mystery and unknowns surrounding autism spectrum disorders. However, others dislike the idea of conflating an individual with autism with a problem to be solved, and prefer to employ more hope-filled symbols.
The ribbon decorated with a puzzle-piece design was created by the Autism Society of America in 1999, but the organization permits other groups to use the symbol as a sign of global autism awareness.
The Autism Society’s website recounts the symbolism in this way:
“The puzzle pattern reflects the complexity of the autism spectrum. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope — hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and access to appropriate services/supports, people with autism will lead full lives able to interact with the world on the own terms.”
World Autism Awareness Day is a time to celebrate and honor the gifts and contributions of individuals with autism. It’s a day to release the prejudices of the past, embrace the realities of the present, and inspire hope for the future. As self-advocate and author Naoki Higashida emphasizes:
“I’ve learned that every human being, with or without disabilities, needs to strive to do their best, and by striving for happiness you will arrive at happiness. For us, you see, having autism is normal—so we can’t know for sure what your ‘normal’ is even like. But so long as we can learn to love ourselves, I’m not sure how much it matters whether we’re normal or autistic.”
Want to do your part to raise awareness within our community? Then be sure to check out our “10 ways to make the most out of Autism Awareness Month,” then share your activities on your social networks today!