The use of the jigsaw puzzle piece as a recognizable symbol of the autism community is a profound choice. Having a child with autism is like having a jigsaw puzzle without a picture, or worse yet, if we do have a picture, it may be one that we don’t like, or one that worries and scares us. The original picture in our mind (or our hopes and dreams) is probably not an accurate representation of the pieces that we received “in the box” when our child was born. That means, as parents, we have to adjust. If we have been experiencing struggles, the picture probably isn’t one that inherently and quickly gives us peace and joy. That means we have to cope. The outline may not turn out to be the same neat, rectangular shape that the rest of us experience in our own puzzles, or that the rest of our friend’s experience with their children who do not have ASD. That means we have to be accepting of our own situation. In our puzzle, the pieces may not always fit neatly or tightly together. Maybe there are even some pieces that are hard to fit in at all! That means we have to be flexible.

Most puzzle pieces have at least some sides that are interlocking. In some puzzles there are pieces that don’t have any interlocking parts and they are harder to work with. This is how the autism piece fits into our lives. It’s a piece that doesn’t easily connect with the other parts of our puzzle. Certainly the familiar process of putting the puzzle perimeter together and then filling in the center is much less effective than with the puzzles of the neuro-typical (if it can be used at all)!  Often the life puzzle for a child with autism comes without a clear picture. All of this can be very disturbing when you are charged with the responsibility, and a very deep desire, to help this child put that picture together successfully!  If we try to apply the regular “rules,” or to compare our puzzle to the picture that others use of success, we come up short every time. The only way to change this is to change our expectations of success; the heavy lifting falls back on us to manage our own experience. To do that, we need others around us who get it.