Please note – this older blog has been superseded by a more recent blog on autistic communication issues, repetitive behaviours or thought patterns, and sensory issues. You may also find our blog on autism diagnostic criteria useful…
Autism was previously defined by the famous ‘triad of impairments’, a concept introduced in the late 1970s. (Wing and Gould.) Undertake any course of further learning about autism or read a reference book, and you will come across it, perhaps being referenced as the former gold standard of diagnosis, regarding autism.
Some organisations STILL reference the concept – but Autism’s Triad Of Impairments is now very dated…
The Triad of Impairments was a tool describing ASC limitations – it included the three elements of Communication, Social Interaction and Flexible Imaginative Functions (including repetitive or obsessive behaviours; sometimes, the third element referred to ‘flexibility’ and / or ‘imagination’.)
The triad has also been described as impairments in theory of mind and executive dysfunction, and a propensity to ‘detail-focused’ behaviour.
However, with revisions to diagnostic manuals, the sub-types of autism have been amalgamated into ‘Autism’, with key characteristics (in a diagnostic framework) including impaired social communication and social interaction, restricted behaviour/flexibility, and sensory challenges. (Please read our more recent blog on communication issues, repetitive behaviours or thought patterns, and sensory issues.)
Let’s look at the negative implications of these older terms
A 2009 Study states: “Exceptional pioneering work in the late 1970s gave rise to the concept of the triad of impairments: impaired communication, impaired social skills and a restricted and repetitive way of being-in-the-world. This allowed a new way for professionals and families to understand autism; this was a transitional idea.”
Experts have moved away from the triad, which was seen as a single explanation for the symptoms of autism – as found in the article ‘Time to give up on a single explanation for autism’.
The authors state: “Despite half a century’s research into ASD, there is little evidence regarding the unity of the three core areas of impairment [as described in the triad]. The triad of impairments can be fractionated, and should be studied separately.”
Continuing to reference the triad could do two NEGATIVE THINGS:
(1)Inhibit the development of research into strategies to help autists. The above article authors suggested NOT looking for SOMETHING that links the characteristics.
(2)Support the notion that autism requires a cure. Again the article states: “Abandoning the search for a single cause [for] autism may also mean abandoning the search for a single ‘cure’ or intervention.”
The link with genes
An interesting 2008 study asked whether key autistic-like traits are mirrored at the genetic level; with separate genes contributing to each characteristic. The authors found that: ‘Each aspect is highly heritable.’
There are other issues with the historical triad too. Does it take into account age and gender? Not really. A 2014 study hinted at ambiguity, and stated: “Findings regarding gender differences in the triad remain ambiguous.”
Also, it should be noted that the triad DID NOT incorporate sensory issues in autists, e.g. their over-or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, light, temperatures etc, as this is a major element or factor for autistic people.
Impairment or advantage?
Let’s look further at the term impairment as used in the triad – an objective term. A ‘New Scientist’ article states: “Auties, as some people with autism call themselves, don’t merely think differently: in certain ways they think better. Call it the autie advantage.”
A blog on SEN Assist sums our question of ‘impairment’ up well, with author Adele Divine stating – “The ‘triad’ [was] a helpful tool in that it highlights difficulties, which are common to those with a diagnosis of autism, but I have an issue with the word ‘impairment’. The dictionary definition of impairment is: ‘The result of being impaired; a deterioration or weakening; a disability… ‘The Triad of Differences’ would be less harsh. Differences may lead to difficulties, but with the right structures and supports differences can also lead to great discoveries. Many of the difficulties represented in the triad can also be positive character traits. The word ‘impairment’ does not suggest this.”
Focussing on autism’s positives
We (as a group of interested parties) should now focus more on positive autism characteristics, like consideration of details, a determination to seek the truth, and an original, often unique perspective in problem solving.
As described on a blog for workshop provider, Autism Awareness Centre, autist John Simpson has created his own triad which is: *The need for predictability *The need for motivation *An uneven cognitive profile (splinter skills). All autists can find their own triad of positivity – this author’s is rational, focussed and self-controlled!
A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.