This is an entry for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The entire month of April (except for Sundays) I will be blogging through the alphabet on autism-related topics to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month.
G is for Giraffe
If you ask most people what the symbol of autism is, they will say it is the puzzle piece. Or they will talk about Light It Up Blue. Maybe they think the blue puzzle piece is the symbol or maybe the interlocking field of puzzle pieces in red, yellow, and two shades of blue.
The problem with all those symbols is that they were chosen by people who were not Autistic. A bigger problem with those symbols is that many Autistic people are offended by them. G is for Giraffe because the giraffe is one of the symbols of autism that was chosen by Autistic people ourselves.
Today I’m going to talk about some of our symbols – the giraffe, the infinity symbol (sometimes portrayed as a möbius infinity symbol), the spectrum rainbow, Âû, and the color red. I will also take time to explain why the puzzle piece and the color blue are not our symbols.
The giraffe is a beautiful symbol because it comes from Autistics speaking up against a song with defamatory language. Therefore it is a symbol of Autistic power. The giraffe comes from Autistic people staying calm while being compared to lamps and animals and turning something so ridiculous into a big joke — using laughter to battle ignorance and non-acceptance like the heroes of the Harry Potter series of novels fought their fears with the Riddikulus charm. Therefore it is a symbol of Autistic joy. The giraffe was rapidly adopted by a large number of Autistics, almost overnight. Therefore, it is a symbol of Autistic community.
If you’d like to learn the story of the giraffe as an Autistic symbol, you can read the whole backstory on the Giraffe Party blog: On the Origins of “Giraffe Party”
For a brief moment, the dandelion was our symbol but therapists and corporations quickly stepped in and took that symbol and subverted it for their goals, including, in at least one case, adding in the divisiveness that the dandelion symbolized “high functioning” autistics. If a symbol is not for all of us, it is not our symbol. If a symbol requires “functioning labels,” it is not our symbol. Symbols of Autistic culture must always represent solidarity among us because Autistic culture values acceptance and inclusion. If you ever see someone trying to take our giraffe away like our dandelion was, please step in, say something, stop them. The giraffe connects us all and must never be used as a symbol of dividing our community.
Another symbol that unites us is the infinity symbol, often shown as a ribbon or even as a möbius ribbon (a ribbon with a single twist, becoming a model for a single-sided object in three-dimensional space because it has no front or back.) And, yes, it too has been taken and subverted in unpleasant ways, but still belongs more to us than to those who have taken it and made it out of a puzzle-piece ribbon or made designs that put the infinity symbol and blue puzzle pieces together in piece of jewelry that donate profits to Autism Speaks.
The infinity symbol can be depicted in different colors, but it began with a rainbow spectrum of colors to symbolize the great diversity in the Autistic community. Many people use the rainbow infinity symbol to represent the larger neurodiversity community as well — neurodiversity being about the full range of neurotypes, not just the autism spectrum.
I would appreciate some help with the history of the spectrum infinity symbol. The first place I remember seeing it was in the logo for AFF (Aspies for Freedom – a group that accepted and sought to unite all people on the spectrum, despite the name of the organization.) in 2004. The symbol has been widely adopted and grown much larger than AFF in the years since the founding of that group. AFF also established Autistic Pride Day (June 18th) which is still observed by many people in the Autistic community as a day that we can celebrate without the emotional difficulties so many of us experience in the month of April.
If I have it wrong and the infinity symbol goes farther back in our community’s history, please leave a comment to let everybody know!
Âû is the symbol of the Autistic Union. The A and U stand for autism but many folks have also adopted the color gold because Au is the chemical symbol for the element gold. Because of this, there are some folks saying “Light It Up Gold” (instead of Blue, the Autism Speaks color.) Âû was started in Australia but is a world-wide phenomenon (not an organization because no one is in charge of Âû – it belongs to everyone who accepts the ten principles.) Âû was started as something to add to one’s Facebook name to indicate solidarity with the principles of Âû but, like many symbols of our culture, Âû has become something larger than just a Facebook identity.
Finally, the color red was chosen this year as a bright and visible alternative to the Autism Speaks color, blue. The campaign is called Walk in Red and includes wearing red and blogging/tweeting/writing/celebrating Autism Acceptance. Not only is blue undesirable because it is the color of Autism Speaks, but blue is not inclusive, since Autism Speaks chose the color blue (from Rosco filters) to represent boys, automatically excluding women and girls:
“The first question we wanted to ask was – why blue? What does the color blue have to do with the autism spectrum? The answer is that Autism Spectrum Disorders are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252). So, the color blue represents the boys diagnosed with autism.” – Rosco’s comments about being the official shade of blue for Autism Speaks.
As for the puzzle piece? From the beginning, it was meant to symbolize something missing from Autistic people. That is offensive. We are not missing or lacking parts. Autisticook has written about the history of the puzzle piece symbol. And you can read more reactions to the puzzle piece symbol at Unpuzzled.
I’d love to see a discussion in the comments section of other symbols of Autistic culture I may have missed. Thanks!