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Why the Puzzle Piece Symbol for Autism Awareness Doesn't Do It for Me

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I used to love puzzles.

What a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday, going to and from a really tough puzzle and loving that feeling of satisfaction when it’s finally done. Then leaving it on the table to be admired, at least for a little bit.

I’m now the mom of a child with autism, and puzzles don’t really do it for me. I find I just don’t have the patience anymore — my patience is otherwise used for my kids.

Which brings me to that dang puzzle piece symbol for autism.

It never really bothered me before, until I really started thinking about it.

Some autism organizations use the puzzle piece symbol for autism awareness with the tag line, “Until all the pieces fit.” Well, tagline creators, I’ve got some news for you.

Those pieces? They will never all fit. That puzzle will never be completed. You never get that feeling of satisfaction upon completion.

Now before you all get riled up, hear me out.

Parenting — no matter if you parent a neurotypical child or a child like my TJ, who has autism — is a journey. There is no ending.

“Until all the pieces fit” contains the hope that eventually all those pieces, even the toughest ones, will fit into a nice, neat puzzle that you can stand back and admire.

For many of us, just as soon as we have figured out one tricky part of the puzzle, another one can pop up. Or maybe a year after we thought we had resolved an issue, it re-presents itself in a new form, maybe slightly different from its original presentation, but needs to be addressed all over again.

Parenting is fluid.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t? Can you imagine finally finding out how that last little bugger of a puzzle piece fits into the whole picture, and you have laid before you a beautiful portrait that you have been waiting to see in its completion?

Yeah — not gonna happen.

Please, don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of amazing moments in parenting: moments of celebrating successes, solving problems, connecting to your child’s journey and life in a real and meaningful way. Joys. Sorrows. Ups and downs.

See? Fluid.

Instead of that puzzle piece, I like to picture something more like one of those desktop wave machines. Rocking back and forth, beautiful blues and greens, ebbing and flowing. And always in motion.

Without an end.

So in theory, that puzzle piece works for many, I get it. And I’m all for anything that increases autism awareness and acceptance in the world.

But for me, for my family, for my boys with unique ways of living in this world, give me a wave machine any day.

family in pool with dolphin

Follow this journey on Laughing… Like It’s My Job.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one commonly held opinion within the community surrounding your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) that doesn’t resonate with you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: March 24, 2016
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