So the story begins when autism was a rare disorder…
In 1997 the Autism Resource Center opened. With a small budget and two part time employees housed in a small space in the West Boylston Residential office Central Massachusetts was the last region in the state to be funded by the Department of Developmental Services (then the Department of Mental Retardation) for an autism support center, the total number of families served was under 500. Autism was a low incidence disability then, less than 1 child in 1,000 was diagnosed. “Aspergers” was the newest diagnosis and our logo then incorporated the concept of a lone human figure, which reflected the rarity of the disorder and the isolation that autism can impose.
THE AUTISM TSUNAMI HAPPENED……
In 2006 we adopted a new look, our current logo. It was polished looking, up-to-date and the lone figure was replaced by a three-dimensional puzzle piece, and we added “A Program of HMEA Inc. ” to the logo, a fine point that had been overlooked for the first 10 years the Center was open. Autism was no longer a low incidence disability, we had moved to a new location, our staff numbers had increased to 4 full time equivalents and a 10 hour secretary.
TODAY, HMEA IS POSTIONED TO RESPOND…….
Now in 2015 we’ve 7 staff members and serve over 3,000 families in Central Massachusetts. It’s been 9 years since we changed our look and an opportunity to work with students at Fitchburg State University to rebrand the Center presented itself last fall. HMEA’s Marketing & Communications Manager Lauren Bavosi and I spent hours with a class of talented and energetic students who produced new fresh concepts, which predictably incorporated the puzzle piece in one way or another. But we felt it was time to move away from the puzzle piece.
As we’ve grown, so have the children whose families we initially served in 1997. These young adults, now in their 20’s and 30’s have found their voice. Self Advocates have repeatedly expressed their distaste for the puzzle piece. I was, through my work, first a mentor to these children but eventually I became a student of theirs. I listen and must admit that there is merit to the protest “I am NOT a puzzle piece” and that there are no missing pieces just different neurology for those with autism. The puzzle piece is so ubiquitous in the Autism World, but that world is changing also with the expansion of the diagnostic criteria and emergence of self advocates. We, providers, owe it to those most affected by autism, to listen to their opinions and thoughts. The puzzle piece is more emblematic of the viewpoint of parents who are puzzled by the difference in their child, than the person with ASD. We need to listen to the voices of self advocates as we move forward. “Nothing about us without us” is their cry.
So I asked the students at Fitchburg State to try their hand at creating a logo that didn’t use the puzzle piece. They came up with a great concept of using the letter A, for autism, as a shelter for those affected by the disorder. The actual graphic has since been further refined and we are very excited about the new look.
This time we’ve rebranded with HMEA taking ownership of the center, we are HMEA’s Autism Resource Central. Our tagline remains the same “We are the Center of the autism community “ As we move forward and eligibility for services from DDS is expanded to adults not previously served by DDS, we will be expanding our services to adults. This logo is designed to be appealing to that population. The “A” is implied, the symbol is actually a triangle or the Greek sign for Delta, in math, the most common meaning is of difference or change. A new beginning! The three sides of the A stand not only for Autism, but also Acceptance, Assistance and Advocacy.