G is for Giraffe

The letter GThis 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!





20 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by lyonblanc2013 on April 9, 2015 at 1:26 am

    This is absolutely fascinating! One of my long-time autistic friends used the infinity sign when he and I visited a local monastery more than 10 years ago. He was about 7 years old at the time, and not ‘religious’ in a traditional sense. He went straight to the chalkboard in one of the small conference rooms and drew it — surprising and delighting me. An incident even earlier than that occurred when a young autistic friend of mine drew the same figure on my ‘grammar chart’ (I am an SLP), and it has remained there to this day, on the ‘original’ I make copies from. Thank you for pulling so much of the symbolism together in one article. It is priceless!

  2. Hi,

    Two questions: First, I’d like to signal-boost this series of yours on my blog because I like it and think it deserves readers.

    Second, did you know that your portfolio website has a malware infestation? My antivirus program freaked out when I tried to access it, and I thought you should know.

    • No way! I had no idea! Thanks for letting me know about the malware. I have zero knowledge what to do about that, so research day today.

      Oh, and yes, signal boost would be lovely! Thank you.

    • I *think* I am malware free now …. at least for now. My host was basically, “oh yeah, that happens. Give us $150 and we’ll keep the hackers out for you. Or you can just keep re-uploading your site by hand whenever they come back. Your choice.”

      So …. re-loaded site by hand. Good for now. Will add scanning for malware to my regular routine. Because at my income level it’s cheaper to re-upload on a weekly basis than pay someone else $150. Thanks again for letting me know about the malware! Major thank you!

  3. […] And it’s another recommendation of a post from Unstrange Mind’s A-to-Z April Blogging Challenge, this one “G is for Giraffe“. […]

  4. Recommended this post as well, and also forwarded it to some people involved with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

    :) tagAught (Âû)

  5. Posted by bev on April 9, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Love the giraffe symbol and got the t-shirt. Squawk!

  6. Would anyone mind if I did Giraffe jewelry for the autistic community?

    • I see a lot of people doing giraffe stuff for Autistic folks so I don’t see why you shouldn’t be one of them! The giraffe belongs to all of us!

  7. I had no idea about the dandelion symbol! That’s sad; it could’ve been such a good one.

    • It was a good one and had lots of wonderful symbolism tied up with it. And then corporations and therapy clinics took it and twisted the symbolism and destroyed it. :-( I first ran across the dandelion symbolism years ago in a few small communities and it was growing and spreading before it was co-opted. My favorite part of the symbolism was how so many plants spread their roots wide so they don’t topple over but dandelions send down a deep, deep taproot. Similarly, most people are generalists but Autistics get hold of topics that matter to us and dig deep, deep, deep into them like a dandelion taproot. We might be easier to topple (send into meltdown) because we choose to go deep instead of wide, but we are able to go to depths little-seen and draw a deep strength and joy from one concentrated spot on the earth.

  8. I didn’t know about any of these except the multicolored puzzle pieces. (NOT a good symbol, in my opinion. Bright, jumbled colors are not my friend…)

  9. […] I recently discovered the blogger Unstrange mind. I have been reading several of her posts this month because she is taking part in the Blogging from A to Z-challenge, which is a part of the Autism Awareness Month. Her post on the letter G touched on something I have been blogging about several times myself, labels and symbols. Read her G is for Giraffe. […]

  10. […] accents (Âû) to represent Autistics/Autism. See Unstrange Mind’s April 2015 post “G is for Giraffe” for […]

  11. […] “G is for Giraffe” – a post on Autistic symbols: https://unstrangemind.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/g-is-for-giraffe/ […]

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