The cover of the journal Autism used to feature puzzle pieces, but has now moved to a new design that includes circles. (SAGE Publications)
A major autism research journal is moving away from using a puzzle piece as a symbol of the developmental disorder months after a study found the imagery evokes negative connotations.
With its latest issue, the journal Autism abandoned the logo it has used for the publication’s two decades in existence, replacing the puzzle piece image with a design featuring several circles.
The decision comes five months after the journal published a paper concluding that public perception of the autism puzzle piece is largely negative.
“As one would hope for a research journal, what led to this change was research,” said David Mandell, an autism researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who serves as the journal’s editor. “Given that we published that study, we thought we should act on it.”
After accepting the study for publication, Mandell said the journal’s editors worked for months to consider how to move forward.
Around the same time, the journal’s editors were contacted by Kabie Brook, a self advocate in Scotland who felt that the puzzle piece logo needed to go.
“I really thought it was time to modernize and get rid of the puzzle piece and go with something more up to date and less offensive,” Brook said in a podcast about the change.
In deciding to use new imagery, the journal cited long-standing concerns from self advocates like Brook who claim the puzzle image evokes the idea that those with autism are a problem needing solving or that people with the developmental disorder are somehow incomplete. What’s more, critics say puzzles are typically for children and the symbol perpetuates the falsehood that autism is limited to kids.
“The puzzle piece is therefore no longer an apt, or even adequate, symbol for autism as we currently understand it,” the journal editors wrote in an editorial announcing the change. “The move away from the puzzle piece here and towards our new design is not only about how we choose to represent autism, but it is also about proving that we represent that broader change itself.”
The journal’s editors said they worked with Brook along with researchers, advocates and designers — both with and without autism — to come to consensus on new cover art.
Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, said her group was not involved in the change, but applauds the decision.
“The broader self-advocacy community has been pretty clear about how consistently offensive and dehumanizing puzzle-piece imagery is for decades now,” Bascom said. “We’d encourage any entity currently using puzzle piece imagery to heed the voices of the people they purportedly represent and follow suit.”
Despite the journal’s move, however, the autism puzzle piece, which dates to at least the 1960s, is likely to endure.
Autism Speaks has used the icon as its symbol since the group’s founding in 2005 and its logo can be seen everywhere from public service announcements to coaches’ lapel pins on the sidelines of major sporting events. The nonprofit said this week it has no plans to move away from the visual.
“The blue Autism Speaks puzzle piece has had a huge influence on raising awareness of autism around the world, which is why we believe it is still a worthy and effective logo. It represents the search for answers that will lead to greater understanding and acceptance of people on the autism spectrum, their diverse challenges, abilities and strengths,” the group said in a statement.