One can easily find the autism puzzle piece as a necklace, printed on mugs, in tattoos, or on car windows or bumpers. These symbols serve to raise awareness, show support, and connect with others sporting a similar emblem.
When someone mentions your puzzle piece, however, at times it can be difficult to know exactly how to respond. Do you just say “Thank you” and go about your business? Or do you try to engage them in a conversation about how those on the spectrum deserve equal rights and opportunities as everyone else? Somewhere in the middle? The answer, of course, depends on the situation, but here are some practical tips for how to use your autism puzzle piece to educate, connect with, and inspire those around you.
1) Find out what they know about the puzzle piece before you start talking.
Likely you will be tempted to dive right in to a 10 minute monologue about all the wonderful things that your favorite charity has done for your family. While the service dog they donated to you has changed your family’s life, it is possible that the person commenting does not even know why a service dog would be helpful.
Before jumping into this exciting topic, try asking something like: “Thanks for commenting! Do you have someone in your life affected by autism?” Or: “Yes, I just love my necklace! How familiar are you with what it stands for?”
Asking them a questions gives you the chance to learn what they would like to know, and listening to their response makes them far more likely to really listen to what you have to say.
2) Ask if there is anything in particular they would like to know about the topic.
Maybe you have a whole speech planned out. Or maybe you have already received three similar comments today and are tired of saying the same things over and over. Instead of doing that, take the time to find out what interests them.
Chances are, they know some things already, but want to show their support or connect, or have some knowledge gaps they would like to address. Allowing them to state what they are looking for helps focus the conversation and avoids wasted time and words.
3) Offer follow-up information or suggest an appropriate course of action.
Most people who comment on the puzzle piece have some knowledge of autism, but may not know how to help. After finding out what they know and helping them with what they did not, take some time to point them to websites or organizations where they can learn more and become involved.
Of course, not everyone who comments on your snazzy new custom-made coffee mug will want to have a long conversation about its meaning. But by following these three simple steps, you can point a casual conversation in an informative and active direction. The result will not only be a new friend, but another piece in the puzzle of autism awareness and activism.