leo in bloom magazine


Puzzling over the Piece

by nick pentzell, co-editor in chief

Oh no! A month besieged by puzzle pieces!! Right. I’m autistic. I forgot. Just got too wrapped up being a human being.

This forgetting happens often, on days spent with my stepmom or staff or close friends, in which we may grapple with challenges such as my anxiety or impulsiveness, or deal with accommodations for my sensation of “muscle bees” when the barometer changes, but it’s more a matter of interpersonal relations than disability. I, likewise, operate in reaction to and accommodation of their moods, stress, health, levels of focus, and abilities. In any given moment, any of us may seem inexplicable (even to ourselves), but with calm, and time to think a situation through, we figure things out. Generally I can be understood, and I am.

Autism, and the puzzle piece identifying me as difficult to comprehend, exist in the social sphere. Really, it’s not until I go out in public that I become conscious of being autistic.

Not everyone on the spectrum can communicate, so I have an advantage in the interpersonal tussle, yet there are many neurotypical talkers who have difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings in a way that other people understand or are comfortable with, and we don’t slap a bumper sticker or t-shirt on them, signaling people to pull out decoder rings when we see them coming.

Obviously, I’m someone who hates the puzzle piece symbol. It’s an outdated hold-over indicating the bafflement in past decades when (concerned) outsiders wanted to define us—a throwback to the time before people started listening to what we have to say to explain our different modes of processing the world. At least the crying child in the center of Gerald Gasson’s 1963 puzzle piece has been removed, and we can hope that images of acceptance like the rainbow infinity symbol of neurodiversity soon may make the puzzle piece obsolete.

If we are portrayed and think of ourselves as more puzzling than other people, not only are the vast array of differences neglected that characterize all of us—enigmatic, bewildering, complex, surprising, and delightful, but also those of us who identify as autistic are portrayed as, and feel, disconnected from shared human experience. I hope this issue, and all the issues of Leo in Bloom, heightens your awareness of autism and helps to create the social acceptance we seek.

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We welcome submissions from nonspeakers and will consider submissions from speaking allies. Our issues come out every 2-3 months; the next issue will be on TRAVEL for July 2023. Please feel free to contact us here to pitch a submission!

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