The only time puzzle pieces are appropriate

Written in December 2023

The puzzle piece as a symbol to represent autism has a fair few problems and I've written about those already here. However, I do find puzzle pieces to be relaxing in a really neurodivergent way when I am actually doing a jigsaw puzzle.


For many years I have kept a 500 piece jigsaw of the London tube network as a comfort item. It was identified as a comforting, grounding item long before diagnosis or even the inkling that my brain might be neurodivergent. I liked doing it because it didn't take long, so the reward of finishing it was fairly quick to get. It was familiar, not overly stimulating in a visual sense (like some jigsaws with lots of patterns) and small enough to complete even without a big table or floor space available.

Jigsaw puzzles give the ADHD aspects of my brain a quick dopamine hit for the exercising my problem solving and visual processing skills, which I attribute to the autistic aspects of my brain; although I think both neurotypes will be considered, at least in a treatment sense, to be part of the same continuum at the moment I can still see distinct traits of them both (as we consider them now) at play.


The familiarity of the tube map and the ease with which I can impose an order for visual sorting (Central line trumps all, then Northern, District and Victoria and so on in order of length or prevalence) satisfies my love of order without challenging me too much, and gives those visual processing skills a chance to flex without overstimulation. This is especially useful on a day where visual processing may have been at a minimum, and my brain is just itching to use that skill.


I have got a little stock of “brain massage” jigsaws now, and I especially like the wooden ones with different shaped pieces. These require manipulation of two visual characteristics (both the shape and pattern I am seeking) to find the right piece which is where my brain finds its happy place. I can do these puzzles over and over again and never get bored of them. There's always a new place to start or a different way of sorting the pieces that I can use if I need something different, or I can stick with an established route to completion.


Ironically, there is piece missing from the 500 piece London tube map puzzle, but that didn't impact my enjoyment, or negate any benefit of doing it. The idea of the “missing piece” is a load of rubbish both in this concrete term, and metaphorically speaking when the symbol is used to depict autism.



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