Unless you are new to the world of autism, or have been under a rock, most people are familiar with the puzzle piece (more or less the official symbol of autism awareness.)
The reasoning behind the puzzle piece symbology it is that the world doesn’t know what exactly causes autism, and are “trying to put the pieces together.”
For me, the symbol takes on a more personal meaning.
Growing up, trying to socialize with my peers made me feel like a puzzle piece.
Growing up, trying to socialize with my peers made me feel like a puzzle piece. But one from a different box, that would never fit in with the picture of neurotypical mainstream peers.
Going through school my peers, their interests, their moods. They were hard to read, and because I almost always was slow understanding conversations, I was always left out of them.
Over time though, what originally made me sad, made me apathetic about the need to talk to people, so I would watch lots of videos instead.
As a lifelong fan of mixed martial arts (MMA), watching it with my dad I always thought, “Wow, these guys are COOL!” And the fights reminded me of the cool fights on the Power Rangers or the fighting games I played, like Tekken and Street Fighter
I watched fights when “people-ing” became too much to handle, often rewatching old fights, fights that just happened, and following the careers of fighters.
When I graduated from high school, I began to be more well-versed in socialization. At that point, I decided to train brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ), and muay thai kickboxing at a local gym, making the decision to be like the fighters I idolize so much.
I made a great choice.
I’ve gotten to meet many of my heroes. Some of them, I actually call friends.
Pioneers in WMMA such as my bff/sister from another mister, Roxy, and Cris Cyborg, Miesha Tate, and as of today, Gina Carano.
MMA, particularly WMMA helped me find a place where my puzzle piece can fit. After years of searching, I know where I belong.
I finally fit in.
All fighters are weird.
Who else wakes up every morning, and says, “you know what I want today? I want to be hit in the face and then I want to hit someone else in the face!"
Or for all of you BJJ practitioners. "You know what sounds good right now? Trying to turn my buddy into a human soft pretzel, while they’re trying to do the same to me.”
Fighters might LOOK normal, and come from all walks of life from college students majoring in sciences, real estate agents, graphic designers, and teachers.
You could probably walk by someone who trains, and may not even know they can, and probably have fought another human being.
MMA is the great equalizer.
As long as you do your best, and train hard, it doesn’t matter if you have autism, a mental illness, come from a different country. You can come from a different culture, a country thousands of miles away, but, because of the mats, we become family, and fit into a pretty kick-ass puzzle. I couldn’t be happier with being there with them.
I found my place.
Serena DeJesus is the First Female Professional Mixed Martial Artist with Autism. She's 5-2 in her MMA career, has the Tuff-n-uff Bantamweight Champion Belt, and is an active autism ambassador for the non-profit Fighting For Autism. When she isn't training or fighting you can find her nose buried in philosophy books or video games. To read more from Serena, check out her blog.