Autism and the Limitations of the Autistic Triad of Impairments

Patreon members and YouTube channel members had access to this video on June 13, 2022. The video’s public release will be August 24, 2022.

ID: Lyric, a pale skinned nonbinary person with short green, teal, purple, pink, orange, and yellow hair with shaved sides and jet black roots is sitting behind a white microphone in an RV with dark wood panel walls. Today Lyric is wearing a gray tank top. The words “triad of impairments” floats in front of them in pale teal and green letters.


Welcome back Lyric here, and I am an Autistic adult, however, I didn’t find out I was Autistic until I was 29 years old.

Ever since I found out I was Autistic, when I was 29 years old, in a very stereotypically Autistic fashion, I have been completely obsessed with the topic of autism, NeuroDiversity, ADHD, and my NeuroDivergent brain, and trying to make sense of something that was very confusing to me for most of my life.

When talking about Autistic and NeuroDivergent brains often, because things are looked at through a medical lens, we have a pathological medical model. For autism specifically, we have what is known as the “triad of impairment”. I’m going to dive in and give my thoughts on this “triad of impairments model” of autism.

 If you want to know how I feel about this, although you may be able to get some of my thoughts, please do stay tuned.

Welcome back! Talking about the triad of impairments this week: the triad of impairments is social impairment, language and communication impairments, rigidity of thought and behavior. Those are the three triad of impairments that they are saying that Autistic People have.

I would like to counter and add that this is very limiting, because it misses two major impairments that I feel contribute to all of the first three: sensory processing differences, because that can be an impairment on social, language, and communication as well as motor control, because that has a big impact on our language and communication as well.

That’s just something I feel they should add, or should be in place, in this triad of impairments.

I feel like the NeuroTypicals are just really missing things, without looking at where these communication differences are originating.

So according to the heavily medicalized, one-sided, only listing out the deficits, negatives model of autism. . . We have this triad of impacts.

We have air quotes, “social impairments”, as Autistic People. We have language communication, differences, and I’m sorry. I would call them a difference. They called them impairments.

We also have air quotes, “rigidity of thought and behavior.” that is the triad of impairments for Autistic People.

I feel this triad of impairments is lacking, because it doesn’t list some of the very important things that contribute to some of these difficulties, that Autistic People can struggle with.

For example, there is no mention of sensory processing differences, which in my personal experience, as someone who has sensory processing differences, those have a major impact on my ability to communicate.

If incoming communication is jargled, or I am having sensory overload, I am not able to communicate, so that’s a big thing.

The other thing, that is not listed anywhere in this triad of impairments for Autistic People is motor control differences.

With Apraxia of speech being something that can have a major impact for those autistic people who experience it, or even myself, having selective mutism and selectively losing liability to communicate with my mouth is a major impact on my communication. The muscle control piece is so, exceptionally, important.

Then the other third thing, that I feel this triad of impairment misses out on, is executive functioning differences.

A lot of my rigidity rigidity, rigidity- rigidity. I cannot say it. Read-dig-id- why can’t I say it now?!

That word, that’s not going to come out of my mouth. I can’t even, I’m trying to say it. My brain just broke.

The, the reason I struggled to transition and when someone changes up my schedule rigidity, Ridgi-did-it-T. That was harder than it should have been.

The reason I struggled with this, a lot of the times, has to do with executive functioning, and we aren’t even talking about that here in this piece. So the NeuroTypical model is really lacking, in my opinion.

Looking back at this impairment model, let’s look at this first air quotes, “impairment”, social impairment, which I would say our social differences.

Air quotes, “may not have interest in peers and display little interest in other people and may isolate themselves” -true.

May not grasp social rules. Yeah. Okay. True.

Difficulty understanding emotions and feelings of other people. May find social situations stressful.

Why is all of that bad?

For example, I often am very content, when I am isolating myself. Me isolating myself is often more distressing to other people than it is to me, because when I have air quotes, “isolated myself”, I’m often at home working on a hobby or passion that brings me a lot of joy.

The one that says that I “find social situations stressful” has a lot to do with the fact that everyone around me has all of these unspoken expectations, that I may not pick up on it. I may not air quotes, “grasp the social rules”.

If I socialize with other NeuroDivergent People, other Autistic People, and people who are just a lot more compassionate about making expectations explicitly clear, people who are very upfront, and blunt, and honest… I actually find those social situations to be much less stressful.

A lot of my struggles in social situations come from expectations for me to be, and perform, and behave in a NeuroTypical way. When I remove those expectations from myself, I feel as if it’s less of a problem, but I need people to be compassionate with me.

Impairment number two, “language of communication” I did mention that sensory processing and motor control have a big impact on this. We don’t see enough discussion on how that impacts language from medical professionals, in my opinion as an Autistic Person.

When we see them talking about the language of communication air-quotes “deficit”, we see things such as taking language, literally. Which for me, because I’m a visual thinker, the words you say to me, draw me a picture. If you say things that draw a literal picture of something, that is how I’m going to interpret it. Therefore, I interpret things very literal, because of my visual way and thinking.

I feel as if asking you to just say what you mean, it’s a very fair and reasonable accommodation for this, and I don’t understand why you just not saying what you mean is a problem.

Also, difficulties with facial expressions, and reading unspoken communication cues.

It just never occurred to me to look for information in people’s facial expression and body language, until I was diagnosed Autistic, when I was 29 years old. I just assumed I could take people for what they said, and their words would tell me what I needed to know. Apparently, as an adult, I found out that this is not the case.

Seriously, can’t you just say what you mean and not expect me to read what’s not being said? Can we make things a bit more explicit please?

Autistic communicators run the gamut from being hyper communicative, speaking a lot with our mouths.

We may speak, not at all, with our mouths. We may have limited mouth communication. Many of us may type, wright, or use other alternative devices to communicate; if we have those muscle control issues, or selective mutism, or anything that means speaking with our mouths may be unreliable, or not the best way for us to communicate.

Even me who “blahblahblahblahblah” these videos every week, I find that I, actually, communicate most effectively typing and in writing, versus with spoken communication and that is my communication need, whether it is an outgoing or, especially, an incoming communication, because I have auditory processing differences, a sensory issue that has a major impact on my ability to process incoming communication.

Being Autistic means we are more likely to be NeuroDivergent in more than one way. I am Autistic and ADHD, and hyperlexic, for example; which impacts how I process communication.

Autistic people may be dyslexic. They may have dyscalculia. Those are other processing differences, that impact how someone is processing communication, as well as audio processing differences.

Yay. Those kind of suck. I’m just going to be honest… the audio processing. I can’t hear anything anyone says word for word ever.

Okay. Now let’s talk about that last bullet point, the rigidity in Autistic People, defined as when we have an air quotes, “inability to cope with new demands or new information”.

Changes in the schedule that looks like me, having a meltdown, getting really upset when somebody says, “surprise, we’re going to do something else, not what I told you. We were going to do earlier” or “surprise, we’ve got a meeting in 10 minutes we’ve got to prepare to”, or, “oh, well, this is the new idea we’re going with. Here, here’s the new idea you’ve got to adjust to.” and me freaking out and having a meltdown.

Here is the secret: I can adjust to new information. I can adjust to a schedule change, just not right then and there in that moment. I need a little bit more time than most people to adjust to a new plan or new information, but I can adjust.

What I feel is rigid is a non-Autistic Person needing me to be able to instantly put the brakes on, come to a screeching halt, and change directions.

Just give me some time. I know you might be able to change directions like that, but I can’t. One way isn’t worse than the other.

This impairment models of autism and Autistic People is really… if you take the opposite of any of these traits, you could pathologize a non-Autistic person in the same way.

Saying that they “require too much change in spontaneity to be content, and they get bored easily with routine “you could say that they are “overly dependent on socializing with other people”, et cetera, et cetera.

You can pathologize anybody, if you try hard enough, and with Autistic People, we’ve been pathologized for far too long.

Thank you for hanging out with me this week. If you are still here, you sat through the entire video, hit that thumbs up. So I know I didn’t lose you along the way.

I know I can ramble and go in all kinds of directions, but I’m trying really hard with my notes to keep myself on track and to the point.

Hitting that thumbs up, lets me know if I did meet those expectations and I didn’t lose you.

Thank you to everyone who sticks around, who reacts to the videos, who adds your feedback and your comments, and your video suggestions and questions. This blog wouldn’t be what it is without all of you, the readers and viewers. I’m really grateful for each and every one of you.

Of course, I’m also grateful for the Patreon Subscribers, Facebook Supporters, YouTube Channel Members, and now the Twitter Super Followers, who do that little monetary subscription, to help me pay for things like transcriptioning software, website hosting, and the technology with which this blog and videos are created on.

Every few years, you’ve got to upgrade technology, much to my dismay, because I don’t like changing my technology… but without you, I wouldn’t have the option of upgrading and changing the technology. So literally this blog wouldn’t exist without you.

Thank you, every single one of you.

I will see you all next week. Bye .

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💜 – Lyric

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