Autism Awareness, the Puzzle Piece Symbol and Tattoos

boy with arm around him that has a tattoo of a puzzle piece
Photo courtesy of Ink4Autism

April 2 is Autism Awareness Day; however, people who advocate for autism awareness like myself, well… we take the whole month of April; and parents of children with autism, like myself… we do it every month, every day. We actually use 365 days a year to spread autism awareness.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder. Often people with ASD are referred to as being “on the spectrum.” Challenges of ASD vary from person to person.

The puzzle piece is the well known symbol for autism. Over the years, there have been many debates over it. Some advocates argue it implies something is missing from people on the spectrum, or implies they aren’t whole. Gerald Gasson, a parent board member for the National Autistic Society (FKA The Society of Autistic Children) created the symbol in London in 1963. The board viewed autism as a “puzzling” condition… hence the puzzle piece.

I believe it’s up for interpretation.

I, like so many other parents of children with autism, found support online after my daughter’s diagnosis. I found each person had his or her own story to tell, and I quickly realized we all wanted the same thing for our autistic children or loved ones: awareness and acceptance. Not long after arriving in my new community of fellow parents with autistic children, I heard all about one of the biggest autism awareness pages on Facebook, Ink4Autism. This guy was spreading some major awareness, and he inspired me to want to do the same.

Awareness can be done and seen in so many ways: bumper stickers, charity walks, personal blogs (like mine), fundraisers and even tattoos… yes, tattoos.

Autism tattoos take on many forms, from the puzzle piece designs, to a butterfly with puzzle piece wings, I’ve even seen the Superman emblem in puzzle piece design. No tattoo is the same, which is true with autistics. “If you’ve  met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” and my personal favorite mantra, “Different does not mean less!”

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jack Skorochod, founder of Ink4Autism. Jack spreads autism awareness with more than 100,000 followers. Ink4Autism is one of my go-to pages for so many in the autism community; I had to know how and why he started his cause.

This guy looks pretty tough — covered in ink from I’m guessing head to toe. Some may say he is intimidating. In speaking with him, he definitely smashes the stigma that tattoos are just for tough guys. He’s a husband, a father, has a passion for tattoos and a love for his family.

We spoke about his organization and how it came to life:

I’ve always been into tattoos, even at a young age. I’ve always loved the beauty of them. Although, I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was 30 years old. Yeah, but I’ve more than made up for it since then. I have tattoos dedicated to my wife, sons, family, as well as some memorial tattoos. When my son Lincoln was diagnosed with autism at 5 years old, it seemed only natural that I get a tattoo to show respect and honor to his autism.

The idea for Ink4Autism happened in November 2011 when Jack had stopped into one of the many tattoo shops he regularly frequented. It was at this time that he walked into the Lost Anchor Tattoo Parlor while they were running the “Movember” fundraising campaign. Movember is an annual fundraising event where people grow out mustaches to raise awareness for various cancers, like prostate cancer. This shop was doing mustache tattoos with the proceeds being donated to the campaign.

“A lightbulb went off,” Jack told me. “Why not for autism?”

The switch was flipped, and Ink4Autism was born. Even with a massive following, Jack is humble, and the passion he has for his cause shines through. He is a true advocate. He told me:

My first year I managed to get 18 shops in the U.S. and here in Canada to take part. Some were friends of mine, others were shop owners that I had found online that had already done some fundraising events at their shops, so I knew they would be open to helping out for autism, and thanks to social media, other shop owners found out about it and they contacted me to join and support the cause. People would find out about it through our Facebook page, and they would tell their artist friends about it. By the second year I had about 75 shops and had added Australia and the United Kingdom to the list, and it has continued to grow each year.

Since 2012, I4A has been helping spread autism awareness on a permanent level. During the month of April, you can go into a participating shop to get an autism-themed tattoo, and the funds are donated to numerous autism charities. Tattoo shops in 11 different countries around the world have participated in this campaign, and since 2012 Ink4Autism raised more than $80,000 for autism services.

Jack told me:

Our autism tattoos act as a permanent showing of love for those with autism in our lives. We are smashing the stigma that tattoos are for thugs, and we are raising awareness for autism at the same time. I will proudly display that inked love until the day I die. I love hearing the stories of people who never would think about getting a tattoo, and they are getting an autism tattoo to support their loved ones with autism, and to me the most touching tattoos are the sibling pieces. As a dad, watching that kind of support from a sibling is incredible, something I get to witness every day with my own kids.

I personally love the puzzle piece, and I don’t agree that it implies something is missing from my child; my daughter was the missing piece to my life’s giant puzzle, and now I have my lost piece.

I asked Jack what the puzzle piece symbol meant to him and this was his answer:

I see the puzzle piece as the mystery of autism. It’s just one of the parts that make up my son. I know others don’t see it that way, and it’s all right to have someone see something differently than I do… and neither of us is wrong because we are all on the same path.

Yes, we all want awareness, acceptance, and inclusion for all… and a tattoo. I think I really want a tattoo now.

Follow this journey on Melissa’s Facebook page.

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