University of York apologises for using controversial symbol on World Autism Awareness Day

The Tweet using the controversial puzzle symbol has since been deleted


The University of York has apologised after it used a controversial symbol to highlight World Autism Awareness Day.

A post shared on its social media used an image of a jigsaw puzzle piece, a symbol which was formerly widely used as a representation of autism awareness, but has since become a subject of controversy.

The university was forced to remove the post and apologise for “causing upset” to people after social media users criticised the university for including the symbol in the post on Tuesday, ITV reports.

The university apologised on X (formerly Twitter), where it wrote: “Yesterday, we shared an autism awareness post. Within the image, we used a puzzle piece symbol, which understandably caused upset to some people. We are very sorry to have caused this.”

In a second Tweet, it also explained that the blunder was due to lack of awareness by those in its social media team: “Reading the feedback, it’s clear there are some gaps in our knowledge and understanding within our team, particularly in relation to symbolism, that led to this mistake.

“We are constantly learning and are grateful to those who drew this to our attention.”

In a third Tweet, the university spoke of its work to awareness of autism in the community: “There are many amazing staff and students at the University of York, who work tirelessly to research, understand and raise awareness of autism.

“We will seek input and advice from our community, as we work to improve our understanding and actions in the future.”

Designed by board member for the Autistic Children Association, Gerald Gasson, in the 1960s, the symbol of the puzzle was created because those with autism were regarded to be “full of unknowns like puzzle pieces”.

The symbol has since been criticised because it implied that people with autism were “missing” something as if “incomplete” and needing to be “solved”.

The puzzle piece was replaced in February 2018 with a rainbow-coloured infinity symbol to convey a spectrum, difference, and diversity.

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