Many symbols have come to represent autism over the years but none is as popular as the puzzle piece. First used as a symbol for autism in 1963 by the National Autistic Society (NAS) in the UK, it’s become a globally recognised symbol for the complexity, joy and mystery that surrounds autism.
There are many other symbols and colours all of which hold significance for the autism community. Let’s explore some of the prominent symbols that have come to represent autism awareness and acceptance over the years.
Is There An Official Symbol for Autism?
While there isn’t an official universally recognised symbol for autism, several symbols have emerged as representative of the autism community. These symbols help to increase public awareness, promote better understanding, and foster inclusivity for people with autism and other support needs.
One could say that the absence of a single official symbol reflects the diverse nature of autism itself and the various ways in which people perceive and experience it. Some of the most popular symbols include the puzzle piece, the rainbow spectrum, the butterfly and the clasped hands.
What Symbols Represent Autism?
There are a range of symbols that hold deep significance within the autism community. Each symbol carries a unique message that embodies the diverse experiences and perspectives of people with autism.
Perhaps one of the most recognisable symbols associated with autism is the puzzle piece. It was designed by Gerald Gasson, a board member of the UK’s National Autistic Society in 1963. Just as a puzzle piece is unique and fits into a larger picture, this symbol is meant to represent how each individual with autism contributes their own unique qualities to society.
The original image depicted a puzzle piece with a crying child which was intended by its designer to represent the idea that children with autism lived with an often challenging and “puzzling” condition.
This imagery was controversial for many reasons and many people felt it was patronising to the autism community. Most modern depictions of the puzzle piece no longer include the crying child. Today, you will likely see the puzzle piece as completely blue or rainbow coloured.
The rainbow spectrum has become another significant symbol associated with autism awareness. Through the use of colours, it’s intended to represent the diversity and wide range of experiences within the autism community.
Much like a rainbow, which is composed of various bright colours, the autism spectrum encompasses a broad array of personalities, abilities, and challenges. The rainbow spectrum symbolises this unity in diversity and emphasises the importance of inclusivity.
Light it Up Blue
“Light it Up Blue” is a globally recognised autism awareness initiative. It takes place during Autism Awareness Month in April, with iconic landmarks and buildings illuminated in blue lights to symbolise support for people with autism.
The colour blue has always been associated with calmness and understanding, making it a fitting choice for this initiative. The campaign was launched by Autism Speaks, an advocacy organisation, to bring attention to the challenges faced by individuals with autism and to promote acceptance.
“Light it Up Blue” serves as a visual reminder of the prevalence of autism in our society and the importance of building an inclusive and supportive environment for people with autism and their families. By illuminating notable landmarks, institutions, and even homes in blue, the initiative hopes to spark conversation and encourage communities to learn more about autism and its impact.
Some people feel that the image of a puzzle piece may prompt an idea of isolation or “not fitting in”. The butterfly was introduced to provide an alternative symbol for people who may feel uncomfortable with the symbolism of the puzzle piece.
The butterfly is a symbol of the beauty of change and continual development. A person with autism may not develop in the same way as a neurotypical person, but they will hit their own milestones and continue to grow. The butterfly is a positive representation of this type of change.
Multiple organisations, among them the UK’s National Autistic Society, adopt the imagery of clasped hands to symbolise the concepts of acceptance and support. The symbol often depicts two hands of different colours to highlight the importance of embracing our differences.
Created in 1999, the infinity symbol is a modern alternative that was created to inspire thoughts of inclusivity. It is usually a solid colour or depicted with the colours of the rainbow. Since the infinity symbol has no beginning or end, it was created to represent the enduring connections within the autism community and underscores the commitment to promoting a society where every person is valued and embraced.
The Autism Awareness Ribbon (The Puzzle Piece Ribbon)
The puzzle ribbon became the universal symbol of autism awareness in 1999. While trademarked by the Autism Society, it’s shared with other nonprofits to promote unity and a universal mission rather than individual interests.
The puzzle pattern was chosen to demonstrate the complexity of the autism spectrum, with its diverse colours and shapes representing the people and families living with autism.
The ribbon’s brightness is meant to symbolise hope. Unlike the single puzzle piece logo, the Puzzle Piece Ribbon features various colours. This was intentionally chosen to showcase the diversity of people living with autism.
What Colours Represent Autism?
Colours play a significant role in conveying emotions, messages, and identities. In the context of autism awareness, certain colours have come to symbolise the diverse experiences and needs of people with autism. While no single colour universally represents autism, several colours have gained recognition for their associations with autism awareness and advocacy.
Blue is one of the most widely recognised colours in the autism community. The “Light it Up Blue” initiative, observed during Autism Awareness Month in April, encourages landmarks and buildings to illuminate in blue to demonstrate support for autism awareness.
Blue, Red and Yellow
These primary colours are often seen in the puzzle piece symbol, which is a well-known emblem of autism awareness. The puzzle pattern represents the complexity of the autism spectrum, and the use of primary colours symbolises the diversity of people living with autism and their families.
The rainbow spectrum is another symbol used to represent the diversity of the autism community. It encompasses a range of colours to signify the wide variety of characteristics, strengths, and challenges present within the spectrum.
Specialist Autism Support from Liaise
At Liaise, we provide personal, progressive and person-centred autism support services designed to empower people to live richer lives.
Through our residential care and supported living services, people with autism and other support needs can learn independent living skills and develop friendships in a positive, structured environment.
We are here to support you and your family every step of the way. If you would like to learn more about residential care or supported living, do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.