I am celebrating Autistic Pride Day today by wearing the shirt that I made that reads “Don’t be sorry because I’m autistic, be sorry because you’re not.” on the front and “Proud Supporter of Asperger’s Syndrome” on the back. I also painted an Autism Awareness Ribbon on the back, which is a general awareness ribbon with multi-colored puzzle pieces filling it in.
I began to consider the idea of the puzzle piece as a symbol for autism and how Autistic Pride Day was sort of invented as backlash to the pro-cure autism groups and advocates such as Autism Speaks, Jenny McCarthy, and Holly Robinson Peete (I will keep my opinions to myself in this post). It was in fact Autism Speaks who commercialized the puzzle piece as a symbol, and many people who celebrate Autistic Pride Day are the same people who picket Autism Speaks by carrying signs that read “Autism Speaks Doesn’t Speak for Me” and “I Am a Person, Not a Puzzle.”
I never have had a problem with the puzzle piece as a symbol for autism. I do disagree with those who consider the symbol a sign for autism being a puzzle, or as people with autism being a puzzle. Instead, I consider the puzzle piece to signify the uniqueness of every person with an autism spectrum disorder and the fact that the world is a puzzle for people with autism. Besides, I like jigsaw puzzles.
I recognize that this connection is a bit of a stretch, and I have felt for a while that a more appropriate symbol for autism awareness would be a four-leaf clover. Though they are members of the same species as three-leaf clovers, they were endowed an extra leaf by genetic mutation. In theory it is rare for there to be a four-leaf clover amongst three-leaf clovers, but I know there are patches in which the occurrence is higher. Rather than being thought of as genetically mutated or freakish acts of nature, the four-leaf clover is a symbol of luck and prosperity.
Though most do not attribute an autism diagnosis with luck or prosperity, I feel it is much more effective to embrace autism as an asset than to condemn it as an enigma. On Autistic Pride Day we should remember that it was autism that gave Albert Einstein the ability to rationalize through the theory of relativity, and that it was Asperger’s Syndrome that allowed John Elder Robison the mental capabilities to design and test flaming guitars and digital toys in his head. If we were to eradicate autism spectrum disorders, we would be doing our world a disservice by eradicating the great minds who benefit from them.