In recent years, the way we view and represent individuals with autism has undergone a significant shift. While autism awareness campaigns have helped bring attention to the condition, there is now a growing recognition that inclusion, not just awareness, is needed. Creating more inclusive spaces for individuals with autism is becoming increasingly important as the prevalence of the condition continues to rise. This includes taking a look at the symbols and images used to represent autism and autism acceptance. There has been a recent shift away from the traditional puzzle ribbon to more colorful and diverse representations, reflecting the unique qualities and diversity of individuals with autism.

Why the change from Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance?

Several years ago, we moved away from the idea of Autism Acceptance to Awareness. Christopher Banks, president and CEO of The Autism Society of America, reported at the time, the need to shift to more inclusive language. While it was important to become more aware of those with autism in our communities, it is now time to “include” those with autism in our spaces. Inclusion in the wider community supports connection, something many of us crave- those with and without autism.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated the prevalence of autism in the United States. Previously, the numbers were 1 in 44 and now they are 1 in 36. With the continued increase in numbers, individuals with autism will continue to need access to quality educational and  social programs. All persons bring unique qualities and those with autism are no different. How do we support those with autism in purposeful and meaningful employment opportunities as well as active social lives? When connections are made, resources shared and support offered, we expand the opportunity for success for all individuals, including those with autism.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated the prevalence of autism in the United States. Previously, the numbers were 1 in 44 and now they are 1 in 36.

The Shift Away from the Puzzle Ribbon 

Many of us are used to seeing the puzzle ribbon as a symbol for autism. In 2018, a decision was made to move away from the puzzle ribbon. For some, the puzzle indicated that there is something missing or incomplete, therefore, broken in people with autism.  Others felt that people with autism had no say in how autism was represented and did not believe the puzzle piece was an accurate representation.

Since 2018, several options have been created as representations for autism or autism acceptance.

4yr old autism numbers

In order to show the spectrum of autism, rainbow colors have been used.  The multitude of colors helps represent the myriad of symptoms, abilities and challenges individuals with autism experience.  The rainbow of colors is seen in the infinity symbol or butterfly.

4yr old autism numbers

Another symbol you may see is the colorful butterfly.  This represents the beauty of diversity among those with autism.

This final symbol represents the “light it up blue” campaign. This campaign originated with the advocacy group Autism Speaks.  The color blue was part of the primary color for Autism Speaks and was felt to be a “calming” color.

These are just three representations you may see.  Others exist, including those individuals with autism created for themselves or others with autism.


Autism Acceptance Month is underway. Here’s why the name is important. Maria Jimenez Moya.  USA Today.  April 2, 2022


Kari Kessler

Project Consultant

Cassie Brusch

Project Consultant