I have been thinking about and wanting to get a tattoo representing my Autism for a really long time now. There is a tattoo I want to get first because the symbolism is important to me but being autistic is such an important part of my identity and I would, at some point, like to get a tattoo to commemorate that. But figuring out what the right one is is taking a while and a lot of thought.
In my search for inspiration, I’ve now seen a lot of different tattoos representing Autism and I thought I’d share what I’ve found as well as some of my own ideas…
I’ve done a lot of searching and as far as I can see, most people go with the obvious symbols…
The puzzle piece is definitely the most well known symbol associated with Autism, having been used by Autism charities and organisations for decades. As far as I can tell, most autistic people feel that the puzzle piece symbol is, at best, problematic and, at worst, offensive in that it symbolises something missing, symbolises autistic individuals as being less than neurotypical individuals. But despite this negative view, most of the tattoos I’ve found online involve the puzzle piece in some way.
As I said in my post about symbols associated with Autism: “Personally, I don’t hate it as a symbol. To me, the puzzle piece doesn’t represent something that’s missing; it represents the idea that we’re all puzzles and we wouldn’t be complete without every single thing that makes us who we are. We’re mosaics and we are who we are because of each piece that builds up the picture. I know many people feel that Autism isn’t just one piece and I agree but my point is that I don’t see the puzzle piece as something missing but as something fundamental. So I don’t hate it but I think it’s history – it’s original meaning – is too entrenched in society’s consciousness to ever really be changed. I doubt it could ever be a purely positive symbol at this point.” Personally, I wouldn’t choose it for a tattoo that represents my experience of Autism.
I’ve also seen infinity symbols come up a lot in the symbolism around Autism…
I understand why people like the infinity symbol and while there are some gorgeous tattoos out there (like this one), it just doesn’t really resonate with me as a symbol for Autism since it relates to so many other things. It doesn’t specifically represent Autism to me and that’s what I need this tattoo to do.
Some people use rainbows to represent Autism, most likely a reference to the Autism ‘spectrum’…
While this is my preferred of the common Autism imagery, it feels too close to the LGBT+ rainbow flag. I’m queer and so I wouldn’t feel like I was appropriating the imagery but there’s a reason why these identities and causes have their own colours, right? Being LGBT+ and/or being autistic are both really important parts of who we are and I think, by using the same colours for these two identities, there’s potential for confusion when that’s the opposite of the point of these identifying colours and symbols. Maybe I’m overthinking it but it doesn’t feel like enough if it could be mistaken for something else.
Combinations of the Three:
Most of the tattoos I’ve come across involve at least two, if not all three, of these…
Some of them are really beautiful but none of them feel right and, for me, being autistic is so much about feeling that it has to feel right – beyond the idea that, if you’re going to have something on your body for the rest of your life, you’re going to want it to feel right.
‘Takiwātanga’ is the Maori word for Autism and translates as ‘in their own time and space.’ This seems to be increasingly popular, I imagine because of the feeling of acceptance it evokes.
I really like the sentiment and I’ve seen some stunning tattoos that incorporate the word, the two above included, but I’m not sure it’s right for me. As much as I loved the parts of New Zealand I’ve visited – I think it’s the country I’ve felt most at home in – I’m not sure a word is what I want or what feels right for this tattoo when, so often, being autistic feels so difficult to describe.
More Unusual Ideas:
While the previous images and symbolism seem to be the most common, I have seen other beautifully creative ways of representing Autism…
To me at least, these tattoos seem more like the individual’s representation of Autism or something symbolic of it and I guess that’s what I’m looking for: my personal symbol or imagery representing my experience of being autistic. I just haven’t found it yet.
Ideas I’m Thinking About:
There are a handful of ideas that I keep coming back to so I thought I’d include those as well, just in case they resonate with anyone else. None of these images are exactly what I’d choose but they do illustrate the general ideas I have.
Circle of Three
The Circle of Three is a symbol for Autism created by Lori Shayew and Kelly Green to represent the different aspects that make up each individual person: “In light of the recent news that the rainbow is not an arc, but a circle. (Thanks for the proof NASA) It’s time to recreate the new model. Colours of the rainbow weaving in motion. We are recognised for all of our colours… It’s time to break down the spectrum (low-mod-high) and allow our innate gifts to bloom and flourish. Don’t we all excel at some things, but not in others? No big deal. We can jump from yellow to red to indigo to green and back again. Maybe then there are no colours, only light.”
I really like this as a similar but distinct variation of the rainbow and the way that it can be personalised according to each person: all you have to do is assign colours to different areas of your life – as you feel comfortable doing so – and then interweave them in a way that best represents you as a person.
A long time ago, before I was diagnosed as autistic, I read the story of The Loneliest Whale – a whale who’s call is indistinguishable to other whales – and I’ve never forgotten it. I related to it at some level and that connection I felt has never gone away. I want to write more about this whale and how multiple communities have felt a connection to it and found solace in the story but now’s not really the time.
I’m not sure the whale alone would be enough to represent my being autistic but for me, that connection is there so it wouldn’t surprise me if the image of a whale found its way into my Autism tattoo.
The Use of the Rainbow or Colour Spectrum
Light and colour are important to me and to my perception of the world, particularly my perception of music, which is possibly the most important thing to me. So, the inclusion of a rainbow or spectrum of colour isn’t out of the question. I’m just not sure how.
Being autistic, I feel so incredibly sensitive to the world around me. Sometimes it feels like I can feel the waves and particles in the air, the vibrations of every thing, the world turning, the frequencies of stars… It’s like all of my senses have been calibrated to be extra sensitive, too sensitive. And for some reason, that makes me feel weirdly connected to space and to stars. So the presence of these in a tattoo representing Autism would make sense to me.
Again, like the whale idea, it couldn’t exist on it’s own but I can imagine it as part of something bigger, although I wouldn’t want it to be a huge tattoo.
At this moment in time, the idea that feels most comfortable – feels most representative of my experience of being autistic – is something like this…
Something along the lines of these tattoos, but that involves some of the elements I’ve talked about or even all of them, is what I’m thinking about currently. But as I’ve said, I want to get it right so I’m taking my time to think through every detail and make sure I’m sure.
Getting a tattoo is not going to be an easy thing for me. I’m sensitive; sensory information is always loud for me. The sound won’t be easy. The pain won’t be easy (I’m sensitive to it but not afraid of it). The ongoing anxiety around COVID won’t be easy. So, yeah, it won’t exactly be fun. That’s part of the reason I want to get a smaller, simpler one first. But this is important to me so I am going to make it happen.
Do any of you guys have tattoos that represent being autistic? Being neurodivergent? I’d love to see them!