A jigsaw puzzle is made up of many interlocking pieces. Each piece is a different color. Each piece has a place and must be included; the big picture is incomplete if even a single piece is missing or left out. A tied ribbon is a symbol of both remembrance and hope, both essential ingredients to understanding and respecting. It is therefore logical that the autism ribbon made up of multicolored puzzle pieces embodies both themes and has become one the most recognizable symbols of autism in the world. Yet, the puzzle pieces remind us that the condition and the people with it are still very much a mystery.
It has been said, “When you have met an autistic person, you have met a person with autism.” In other words, though this condition has a single name, no two people with autism are alike. The variety of colors reflect are symbolic of the colors of the light spectrum, the many “faces” of autism that have led to the term autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People “on the spectrum” range from nonverbal to intellectually brilliant.
To help demystify autism, the Autism Society 25 years ago initiated National Autism Awareness Month, an effort to not promote not only awareness, but also acceptance and appreciation of people on the autism spectrum, in other words, “promote … inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with ASD is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest quality of life.” This view was the subject of an excellent recent blog piece, stating that National Autism Awareness Month (and for the controversial Light It Up Blue campaign, for that matter) should also entail making both autism awareness and acceptance part of our everyday lives, well beyond the month of April.
ASD includes the following—and what you can do:
- Difficulty socializing. This involves not only communicating with people, but also in “reading” people, including maintaining eye contact. People with ASD appear to be disconnected from the social world around them.
- Difficulty with communication. many children acquire speech at much later times in their life, and often in a limited capacity or not at all. These people have a hard time grasping what language is – connection between different minds. Echolalia is the term to describe uttering and repeating patterns of speech heard at an earlier time.
- Sensory-processing issues. Intolerance of loud noises, bright or flashing lights, sudden movements.
- Fixation on routines and a difficulty handling change.
- Fixation on interest. Sometimes, the person needs to be redirected, especially if the topic of conversation is unrelated to the interest. However, an interest can also serve as a way to connect to that person.
- Repetitive motions. such as rocking back and forth or placing hands or fingers in front of the eyes. Though such physical actions will appear odd in the community, it is important to remember that these behaviors are a way in which the autistic individual copes with stress and other emotional discomfort.
Let’s embrace the symbol of the ribbon to engage the vision of solidarity and hope of a happy, fulfilling life for the many autistic people among us.
Good to Know
- According to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, some 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) .
- ASD is nearly five times more common among boys (1 in 42) than in girls (1 in 189). ASD does not discriminate: it occurs across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
- That autism is a different way of thinking an being– that they are “wired” differently has gained much ground. It is the theme of the groundbreaking memoir Look Me in the Eye; the history of this perspective is brilliantly outlined in the landmark book NeuroTribes. Another term for this philosophy is neurodiversity.