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  7. 4.4. Identify positive and negative points of the...

4.4. Identify positive and negative points of the triad of impairments.


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Wing and Gould’s ‘triad of impairments’ has been a key component in understanding and diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, like any model or theory, it has its positive and negative points which will be discussed on this page.


Positive Points of the Triad of Impairments


Firstly, the triad of impairments brought together the earlier work of Kanner and Asperger. Whereas Kanner associated autism with individuals with a lower-than-average intelligence and Asperger’s observations were of children with normal-to-above average intelligence (“little professors”, as he like to call them), Wing and Gould introduced the concept of autism being a spectrum condition that encompassed all levels of intelligence.

By categorising the characteristics of individuals with autism, the triad of impairments helped with early identification and intervention of autism in children. In addition, it helped to provide a roadmap for targeted interventions. Therefore, strategies could be developed to address each of the three areas specifically.


Finally, the triad of impairments helped to provide a simplified framework for what is a very complex condition, which made it easier for non-specialists to understand the kind of challenges that individuals with autism might face.

Negative Points of the Triad of Impairments


Although the triad of impairments can help non-specialists grasp the challenges of autism, critics have argued that the model is over-simplified and does not capture all the nuances and individual variations of the condition.

The triad also excludes sensory differences that are common in individuals with autism, such as hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sound, light, touch, taste, or smell.


Like the word ‘disorder‘ in the term Autistic Spectrum Disorder, the word ‘impairments‘ in the triad of impairments can have negative connotations. This can make individuals with autism feel like they are worse than rather than different to someone that is neurotypical and does not address their strengths.

Finally, the triad of impairments is seen as somewhat outdated, particularly since the DSM-5 combined social interaction and social communication into one category, recognizing the interrelatedness of these areas. This shift reflects a more contemporary understanding of ASD.


Despite its limitations, the triad of impairments has significantly contributed to our understanding of autism. As with any model, it is vital to use it as a starting point rather than a definitive description of the condition. Each individual with autism is unique, and their characteristics may not align perfectly with the model.

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