Is Autism a Disability, Neurodiversity, and the Social Model of Disability

This video was shot on June 9, 2021 and released to the Patreon, Facebook, and YouTube Subscribers at that time. The video’s wider public release date is July 7, 2021.


Hey Humans Lyric Holmans here, NeuroDivergent Rebel, and this week comes a question I see frequently online: Is Autism a disability?

If you would like to know my thoughts, please do stay tuned.

All right, Humans, let’s dive into this one.

Is Autism a isability?

Well, first let us look at the definition of the word disability.

 A disability is defined by Oxford, Enwlish, Engli, English words…

Oxford English languages as a fisdle – oh my God.

It’s going to be one of those days.

As a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.

As a resident of the United States, in order to be protected by the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities act, I must be defined as “having a disability that sustainably limits one or more of my major life activities.”

 Technically, I do check all of those boxes, because sensory and communication differences, that I have, do substantially limit me in multiple areas, though being limited in only one life area would have been enough to technically check this checkbox.

 Looking at me, if we look at the examples of my audio processing difficulties, which are sometimes referred to as audio processing disorder,  very common in Autistic People. Not all of us will struggle with this, but many of us do…

One of my biggest struggles as an Autistic Person with sensory processing differences, is often going to be  modern indoor sensory environments,  especially places where many humans will tend to gather under one roof.

 Before I knew I was Autistic, I would find myself in these places, feeling extremely agitated and overwhelmed, but not realizing that this feeling was actually sensory overload, and my fight flight response was being triggered by the busy chaotic environment.

When we talk about just the audio processing, part of the sensory processing, I hear well. I hear everything… all at one volume – refrigerators, AC lights, humming people talking phones, ringing plates, and glasses clinking. It is all this loud pileup of noise.

Sounds pile up and they overload and drown my brain, until I cannot process everything that’s coming at me all at once.

 That has this constant drain on me, unless I block it out, listen to music, sing, or talk to myself, to distract myself from the sound coming in, and making my own sound, or run off into nature.

 I seem to have no sensory issues in nature, which is great, except for I get cold or hot, easier.

 I don’t regulate my body temperature very well.

 The only thing I could do is I could do some intense physical activity. That that can help. Like if there’s some bad sensory input, I can go like run around or jump on a trampoline or do something. Dance, dance, I dance a lot- do something physical,  to mitigate the hostility in the environment, and distract myself from the sensory torture that is eminent sometimes.

 My brain doesn’t prioritize words or filter sounds out very well. I also struggled to process and filter out the sounds from the words. 

I will often miss hear words in conversations, or my brain will just randomly skip words and decide not to process words,  and even in an ideal environment, which is something that I would say is one-to-one environment, with little to no background noise, like TV or fans going on, I am often unable to process what I’m hearing correctly.

 My brain is jumbling the words on the way in.  That leaves me searching most of the time for context clues to figure out what was said.

I think people would be very amused if they knew the things I heard, compared to what things people are actually saying, because I often will realize, well, that doesn’t make sense. That can’t be it. They must’ve said something else.

  This is my daily life, and the way my brain processes or doesn’t process language.

 This problem is something that first became an issue for me in elementary school onward, and then continues even today.  It continued into the workplace and continues into my social life.

 It has become something that is now much more tolerable,  with the use of sensory aids and tools.

 Recently I went to a loud and busy bar, because the VAX life is good, and now I can go in public. Whew. 

I was wearing my noise canceling earbuds with out music on them, just with the noise canceling on.

 What that did for me was it helped me to cut through the sound chaos that tends to take over my brain, in a place where there are so many people shuffling around making noise. 

If the lights are too bright inside, I might wear sunglasses or a hat too.

 This particular place wasn’t so bad.  Lighting wise, it was kind of nice,  because bars tend to be a little bit darker.

 Once my senses are soothed, I am more relaxed and I’m comfortable. I’m able to engage, and I’m less likely to freak out or run out of a building in a panic when I suddenly can’t take it anymore.

 In the past, I may have just avoided going out to a public place with all of those people. Now I know, with my tools, this is something that I can actually access.

Just like when someone who uses a wheelchair  and ramps and other aids for their disability, is now empowered to access society, being accommodated with  sensory tools, such as noise, canceling headphones, empowers me to succeed.

It allows me to navigate a system that wasn’t designed for me.

Now, currently environments in the public space are often, what I would say are sensory hostile. Very few businesses understand or know how to create a space that is sensory friendly. That means I bring my own tools with me to allow myself to create a sensory bubble so that I can enter a sensory hostile space.

 Instead of forcing sensory sensitive people to learn to tolerate overwhelming environments, we need to change the way we do things.

That doesn’t work for me. I don’t acclimate. I just get sick and overwhelmed. It’s like asking a fish to climb a tree and breathe air on land. Can’t do it. It’s not what the fish is built for. It’s not what the fish is made to do. 

We’re asking the people who have sensory issues and struggle with sensory issues. To change. It’s not fair. It’s time to ask the environments to change, or we have to modify these in public environments.

  In the meantime, we bring our own tools, so that we can create our own sensory bubble and enter these spaces that aren’t designed with our needs in mind.

It would be great if more public spaces were sensory friendly, but really, it seems as if we are far off from that version of reality at this moment in time, we are still in a place that puts most of the responsibility of flexing and adapting to society on NeuroDivergent People, instead of flexing the systems in society to accommodate everyone more easily.

Another difficulty that I have, as an Autistic Person, is difficulty adapting to change.

Instant, unexpected, surprises or changes to my plans upsets me. Really upsets me, but because I have learned to mask, or hide that part of myself when I was younger, because exploding and lashing out at people for changing plans on me, didn’t work out very well.

It left me with very few friends, lashing out when I was anxious or overwhelmed. That is something that has definitely hindered my relationships with other people. It’s something I have been working on for many years.

Most of the time now I am able to keep my emotional outbursts to myself, screaming only internally, or going for a walk while I deal with the overwhelming volcano of emotions, that begins to well up inside me when my plans suddenly change and my picture of the future is left hanging in the balance.

The more people you have in your life, the more likely there are going to be interruptions to your perfectly planned and imagined day.

When I am diverted from the path I am, so confidently moving on, I feel this instant sense of panic, while I try to re sort myself and reimagine what will be in my new future, since the previous one has now been smashed to pieces by whatever surprise has suddenly come my way.

I struggle with changes to my routine so much that I find myself, in times of uncertainty or change, often falling apart and becoming physically ill burnt out, especially if too many changes happen at one time, or if the change I am faced with, in that moment is too big of a change

It doesn’t  matter if this is a good change or a bad ,change, and that there is no good and bad there just simply is, but I’m not going to turn this into a video on Buddhism.

 Even if something is an exciting or happy change, I find that it can still be very difficult for me. That’s frustrating, and sometimes hard for people to understand.

In the corporate world with constantly changing demands, and eruptions, and surprise phone calls, I found myself having frequent meltdowns, running to cry in the bathroom alone regularly because I couldn’t plan out or predict my work days, even down to the next hour of work, without interruptions.

 This is one of the main reasons now I enjoy working on my own, working by myself, and not working on a team. The demands of other people often  confused, bewilder, and overwhelm me.

If I’m working, I generally just want to be left alone to do my work.  When I worked in an office, the constant interruptions, made focusing on my work, impossible. 

Many Autistic People also have other different NeuroDivergent conditions, in addition to being Autistic. I’m also ADHD, among other things.

 This does make distractions, interruptions, and other background noise, that would normally be a struggle anyway, extra problematic for my brain. My brain can’t do it.

My struggles with change run deep, and require little accommodation, other than a bit of understanding on how my mind works, and how to approach me with, demands, requests, and changes of plans. Like letting me know, as far in advance as possible, when you’ve realized a change is coming.

No surprise meetings, no surprise phone calls, or drop in visits – Hello –  out of nowhere, please.

 If you must, absolutely must, surprise me or change something last minute, please realize that I am going to need some time and, maybe some space, to get over the initial knee jerk reaction, internal explosion, that happens when anything comes to me with a sudden change.

 This is not personal. This is not about you. This is the way my brain adjusts to new information.

I need time to switch gears. I can’t switch instantly. I’m probably going to be fine. Good news. But I will need the time and space to process what’s just happened, what you’ve told me, the change.

 This is  a very easy, and absolutely free, accommodation for a person or business owner to give to someone, if you understand them and this part of the way their brain works.

This all brings me back to the original question- is autism a disability? A physical or mental condition that impacts a person’s movements, senses, or activities.

Thinking about everything we’ve spoken about today, my answer would absolutely have to be yes.

 The impacts of being Autistic are invisible.  Many of our supports are invisible, but with proper supports, many of us can thrive in life. 

Without those supports, many of us will also fail.

Even with the ADA Americans with disabilities act definition of disability, having a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Yes.

For me being Autistic is a disability, because being autistic impacts the friendships and relationships I have, and limits and impacts the jobs and work I am able to take on in life.

 Plus, it impacted me when I was a student in school, very greatly, especially because I had no accommodations in place, because I didn’t know I was Autistic for the first 29 years of my life.

 That did a number on my head, and that’s another video altogether.

In addition to being Autistic, many of us also have other co-occurring NeuroDivergencies, health issues, such as insomnia, epilepsy, stomach issues, and EDS, and mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression.

 This brings me to my final thought – disability isn’t a bad word.

I’m Autistic. I also have several medical conditions, that in addition to being Autistic, would be considered disabilities under the ADA. Technically you could say on my multiply-disabled person.

NeuroDiversity doesn’t say that being Autistic, having ADHD, Dyslexia, OCD, or any of the other conditions in the NeuroDivergent spectrum are not disabilities. NeuroDiversity asks that we treat people with invisible differences with dignity and respect.

Part of that is we need to stop blaming NeuroDivergent People for their struggles in adapting to the NeuroTypical world, it’s systems, and expectations.

This doesn’t mean being NeuroDivergent isn’t a disability. Is an ask for accountability in making the world more accessible for Divergent humans and “typical ones” – typical. Whatever typical means.

All right, Humans, this video went a little long or that I meant for it too, but I think I got all the thoughts across. Hopefully it wasn’t too long.

 If you’re still here, thank you for still being here. I’m really grateful. I’m also really grateful to everyone who likes comments gives video suggestions and subscribes to NeuroDivergent Rebel – me – Lyric.

I’m  on all of the different platforms I am on. I’m on everywhere I’m Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I’m even on TikTok now.

I don’t really know what I’m doing yet, but you can find me on tick tack, tick tack, TikTok, Neurodivergent Rebel, if you’d like to connect with me there too.

A special thank you as always to the Patreon subscribers, Facebook subscribers, and YouTube channel subscribers -who do that little bit of an extra monetary subscription. You help me create this content and are support, that allows me to  focus my attention on this, and keep putting out free resources for the public.

I could not do it without you. I am so incredibly grateful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, everyone, for being here in this NeuroDivergent Rebel bubble.

I am so happy that we are all sharing with each other and learning from each other and growing together.

I will talk to you next week.

Remember I do put out new videos every Wednesday, so don’t forget to turn on those notifications so you don’t miss it. I’ll see you then.

Bye Humans. .


Help me get the word out!!! – If you like what I do, and would like more, please consider subscribing on Patreon. This blog is made possible by support from readers like YOU!  (Sharing my content is also, equally helpful!)

With gratitude,

– Lyric 🎶

2 thoughts on “Is Autism a Disability, Neurodiversity, and the Social Model of Disability

  1. Lyric: Thank you so much for this. You have described my experience with almost eerie accuracy—e.g., being in public spaces, working in corporate, dancing—though I was 50 before I realized I was autistic, and I am still learning and recalibrating.

    Question: which noise-cancelling earbuds are you using? I have some great over-the-ear headphones (Bose QuietComfort 35 II) for when I’m working, but these are bulky and off-putting (for others) for being out in the world.

  2. Thank you for this article (easier for me than using video). I appreciate learning about your experience living on the NeuroDivergent spectrum. It helps me better appreciate some of what people I love are experiencing and how I might avoid adding to some of the conditions that make life harder for them. P.S. I am also interested in learning what earphones you use.

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