Autism Tattoo Ideas

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…

Puzzle Pieces:

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.

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Top left (x), top right (x), bottom centre (x)

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.

Infinity Symbols:

I’ve also seen infinity symbols come up a lot in the symbolism around Autism…

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(x)

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.

Rainbows:

Some people use rainbows to represent Autism, most likely a reference to the Autism ‘spectrum’…

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(x)

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…

Left (x), centre (x), and right (x)

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:

‘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.

Left (x) and right (x)

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…

Left (x) and right (x)

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.”

GiftsofAutismlogo

(x)

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 Whale

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.

Space

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.

A Combination?

At this moment in time, the idea that feels most comfortable – feels most representative of my experience of being autistic – is something like this…

Left (x) and right (x)

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!

The Symbology of Autism

Just as many medical conditions, charitable causes, and organisations use certain colours and symbols to identify and differentiate themselves, Autism has multiple symbols and colours associated with it. They all have their own histories, their own origins, their own connotations. Here are several of the most well known…


The Puzzle Piece

The puzzle piece is the most well known symbol related to Autism, dating back to the early 1960s. It was created by a board member of the National Autistic Society, Gerald Gasson, in 1963 based on Autism being a ‘puzzling’ condition. The original logo included not only a puzzle piece but the illustration of a crying child, to represent how children were ‘suffering’ from Autism. Obviously this is deeply problematic and has  perpetuated the negative stereotypes about Autism for decades.

Over the years, there have been many, many different puzzle piece designs attached to Autism related organisations and charities. It’s also been associated with the idea that being autistic means you are missing something, that you are missing something that everyone else has; that may be a feeling that many autistic people experience at some point in their lives but it’s not something that should define us or that should be stated as fact. Another meaning associated with the puzzle piece is that Autism is a puzzle to be solved and, by extension, autistic individuals are puzzles to be solved, another stereotype that many autistic people dislike and dispute.

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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 its history – its 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.

The Colour Blue

The use of the colour blue was first used to represent Autism by Autism Speaks (used in their ‘Light It Up Blue’ campaigns), instantly making it something to avoid given everything the organisation has done (x) (x). And the colour was chosen because Autism was believed to be far more common in boys, something we now know isn’t true; it’s just that the signs are often more easily observed in boys and men than in girls and women. Given the history with Autism Speaks and the misinformation implied by the colour, this is something to move away from.

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(x)

Rainbows

Most likely due to the use of the word ‘spectrum,’ rainbows have been associated with Autism and with neurodiversity. Many feel that the range of colours represents the different abilities, challenges, and identities of the autistic individuals the rainbow symbol represents.

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(x)

While I understand the association, the rainbow will always be firmly associated with being LGBTQIA as for as I’m concerned and attaching it to both identities will not only cause confusion but feelings of appropriation. While I know that isn’t the intention, using it for two different communities and ways we identify is only going to cause problems.

The Colour Gold

The choice of gold developed in deference to the use of the colour blue: “The idea is to have a common thread that runs through all groups, advocates and supporters that was easily recognised, different and came from the autistic community, not from those who think they speak for us.” (x) It’s based on the chemical symbol for gold, ‘Au,’ the first two letters of Autism and autistic and it has multiple positive connotations. Gold is something that is strived for, something rare and valued and treasured, giving autistic individuals a sense of being special, rather than less than – a feeling the puzzle piece often results in. It’s also not gender specific, just like Autism.

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(x)

Infinity Symbols

Like the gold symbol above, infinity symbols are fairly popular when representing Autism (often rainbow or gold coloured) because it represents everyone, every variation of Autism. The rainbow infinity symbol specifically was chosen to be the symbol for neurodiversity by Judy Singer (an autistic woman with an autistic child and sociologist) in the 1990s. This symbol therefore represents not just Autism but other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and more. The infinity symbol not only represents the variation within the community but the inclusion of everyone in it no matter what their strengths, challenges, and so on are.

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(x)

I have nothing against the use of infinity symbols but for me, it’s too vague; it can represent too many things. I was using it in Maths long before I found out I was autistic so, in my head, it’s all about numbers and equations and that’s not how I see Autism at all. So, because of that, it just doesn’t really work for me; I don’t feel like it represents me as an autistic person or as a person in the autistic community.

Rainbow Circle

The rainbow circle is one of the most recent symbols representing Autism, created by Lori Shayew and Kelly Green: “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.” (x) The logo for ASAN – the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, an organisation created by and for autistic people – is not dissimilar to this symbol.

Left (x) and right (x)

This is probably my favourite of the Autism symbols. While the traditional rainbow feels very entrenched and important in the LGBT community, this uses the fitting aspects but clearly distinguishes these two communities. I also really like that it can be personalised for each different person by changing the number and colour of the bands, chosen to represent your experience of being autistic as you see fit. So, with the general design being pretty recognisable, it can represent the community and the individual.

Sources: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)


There have been more over the years but, as far as I know, these are the most significant ones, the ones that keep coming up. I’m not sure if we’ll ever find a colour or a symbol that we all agree on – I’m not sure if we need to – but I think transparency around the symbols and their histories… that is important. If there’s anything I’ve missed or more information I can add, please let me know. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the different symbols so please leave a comment below if you feel so inclined!

Nashville Playlist 2019

Hello friends! I’m back from Nashville! I’m jet lagged as hell right now so a full blog post is a bit much for me but I did one of these last year and really enjoyed it so I thought I’d do it again. So here are thirteen (well, actually fourteen) songs for the thirteen days I was in Nashville…


FRIDAY – ‘Great Ones’ by Maren Morris (written by Maren Morris, Ryan Hurd, and Mikey Reaves)

Maren Morris is one of my all time favourite artists and songwriters and I spent the journey listening to her new album, ‘Girl’. It usually takes me a while to get into new albums but this song immediately jumped out at me as a favourite. I love the detail in the lyrics and the congruence of the mythical, atmospheric production. It just gives me this sense that love like that is really possible when I often doubt that.

You’re the perfect storm

So let it pour down on me

If they tell the story in a hundred years

No one would believe that you and me were really here

Just a memory of what the real thing can be


SATURDAY – ‘This Town Still Talks About You’ by Natalie Hemby (written by Natalie Hemby)

I first listened to the ‘Puxico’ record on my way into Nashville and so every song reminds me of Nashville and vice versa. This song is one of my favourites (so much so that I’ve written about it multiple times). Wandering around Nashville and reacquainting myself with the city really brought it back.

Oh this town still talks about you

Like you never left

Hidden sounds in cracked sidewalks and church pews

How could we forget?


SUNDAY – ‘Loving You, Using You’ by Caylan Hays

I got to see a lot of my friend Caylan while I was in Nashville, which was absolutely wonderful. I love her a lot and her songwriting is just beautiful so of course I had to include her on this list.

Maybe I’m loving you because I’m lonely

Maybe I’m holding you because you know me

Maybe I’m loving you

Oh, because you’re lonely too

Maybe I’m here because I’m grieving

Maybe I’m terrified of leaving

Maybe I’m loving you

Maybe I’m using you

I wish I knew the truth


MONDAY – ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Kalie Shorr

I love Kalie’s music so it was a real treat to go to Song Suffragettes and hear three new songs. The level of care and detail in her songs just takes my breath away. She’s recording her first album at the moment and I’m honestly so excited for it. She’s one special songwriter.

Before you know it every bottle says drink me

Before you know it, yeah, you’re gonna start shrinking

He’ll make you feel small, and there’s so far to fall

When you’re loving a madman

So hey Alice, how is Wonderland?


TUESDAY – ‘Humble and Kind’ by Lori McKenna (written by Lori McKenna)

On the Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of seeing Lori McKenna perform again, which is a bit of a spiritual experience, especially when it comes to this song. The lyrics, the melody, and her voice just come together in this perfect way and it’s absolutely stunning.

Hold the door, say “please”, say “thank you”

Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie

I know you got mountains to climb

But always stay humble and kind


WEDNESDAY – ‘Rainbow’ by Kacey Musgraves (written by Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby, and Shane McAnally)

This is one of my favourite Kacey Musgraves songs and it has been for years. At the late show on the Wednesday night, Natalie Hemby talked about it and then sang it and it was absolutely gorgeous. Easily one of my favourite moments of the whole festival.

Well the sky has finally opened

The rain and wind stopped blowin’

But you’re stuck out in the same ol’ storm again

You hold tight to your umbrella

Well, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya

That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head


THURSDAY – ‘Black’ by Travis Meadows

Travis Meadows is an astounding songwriter and after missing his show last year, I was very excited to see him again this year. He was a complete standout. He told some great stories and his songs are just beautiful. The imagery and the emotion are just SO good.

You taught me there was more to life than getting by

If you want your dreams, the only limit is the sky

If you use your head, you won’t have to break your back

You taught me how to drink my coffee black


FRIDAY – ‘Miss Me More’ by Kelsea Ballerini (written by Kelsea Ballerini, David Hodges, and Brett McLaughlin) / ‘Since U Been Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson (written by Max Martin and Lukasz Gottwald)

There just so happened to be a Kelly Clarkson concert while we were in Nashville. She’s an artist I’ve always wanted to see and I’ve always wanted to see a concert in Nashville so I couldn’t resist. Plus Kelsea Ballerini was opening and I just adore her and her music. Her current single, ‘Miss Me More’ is one of my favourites off her current album, ‘Unapologetically.’

I thought I’d miss you

But I miss me more

I miss my own beat, to my own snare drum

I miss me more

Miss my own sheets in the bed I made up

I forgot I had dreams, I forgot I had wings

Forgot who I was before I ever kissed you

Yeah, I thought I’d miss you

But I miss me more

As you can imagine, Kelly Clarkson is a fantastic performer and the show was incredible. There were so many moments that took my breath away but there’s nothing quite like a whole arena screaming along to the same song. It was so much fun and so freeing.

But since you’ve been gone

I can breathe for the first time

I’m so moving on

Yeah, yeah

Thanks to you

Now I get what I want

Since you’ve been gone


SATURDAY – Born on a Windy Day by Anna Vaus

On the last day of the festival, I went to a really good show. It was really hard to choose a song for this day but this song by Anna Vaus just captured my imagination. I loved the story and the imagery and I keep going back to the little video I took of it.

And a bird’s gonna fly if it’s got wings

A cowboy’s gonna run off when the sunset sings

It’s just one of those things that I can’t change

Oh, I was born, I was born on a windy day


SUNDAY – ‘I’ll Be There For You’ by The Rembrandts (written by Phil Solem, Danny Wilde, David Crane, Marta Kauffman, Michael Skloff, and Allee Willis)

The day after the festival finished, I was exhausted and so me and my writing partner had a chill day watching Friends while I recovered. I find it very difficult, especially in Nashville, to take down time and let go of being productive all the time. But I know that I have to build in recovery time because otherwise I burn out and have meltdowns. So we took a day off and watched Friends, hence this song choice.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way

Your job’s a joke, you’re broke

Your love life’s D.O.A

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear

When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month

Or even your year


MONDAY – ‘Hypocrite’ by Savannah Keyes

I met Savannah when we played Song Suffragettes together and I love her and her music so much. Her lyric writing is just so detailed and clever. I’m so excited that she’s releasing music and this is her first single, which she played at the Song Suffragettes round I went to that night. I love her performance of it; she’s so cheeky and honest.

We all wish we weren’t so human sometimes

But we’re trying, yeah, we’re trying

We all wish we weren’t so human sometimes

But I’m trying, damnit, I’m trying


TUESDAY – ‘Flavor’ by Maren Morris (written by Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, and Laura Veltz)

Maren Morris is pretty much always on in the background of my life, ever since I discovered her first EP, so it’s not surprising that she features on this list so many times. I loved this song when she started playing it on tour a few years back and I’m so happy that it made the new album – it’s a true Maren Morris song.

I’m cooking up my own flavor

Even if it ain’t your style

You only see one layer

Original can take a while

Making a mess straight out of scratch

Think what you think about that

Oh I’m just tryna make good a little bit greater

I’m cooking up my own flavor

(This was also the evening I went to see Caylan (Caylan Hays) play a show and I wish I could choose all of the songs she performed. I can’t wait for her to release them – they were utterly gorgeous.)


WEDNESDAY – ‘A Song For Everything’ (written by Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, and Laura Veltz)

A fitting end for a trip focussed on music and songwriting. I love Maren Morris and I love this song. It’s beautifully produced and the melody and lyrics are just gorgeous. It’s definitely one of my favourite songs on the album and I only hope I can write a song as good as this one day.

One danced you through love

One rocked you through lonely

Mixtaped your heartbreak

And made you feel holy