The Word: Neurotypical

I have seen a lot of misconceptions about what the word neurotypical (NT) means. So, I thought I would take some time to explain what NT means by giving examples of what it doesn’t mean.

The first misconception is that neurotypical means not autistic. Nick Walker addresses this misconception:

“Neurotypical is the opposite of neurodivergent, not the opposite of autistic. Autism is only one of many forms of neurodivergence, so there are many, many people who are neither neurotypical nor autistic. Using neurotypical to mean non-autistic is like using ‘white’ to mean ‘not black’.”

Nick Walker

So, that means that someone can be neurodivergent without being autistic. Technically, if you want to say that someone is not autistic, you can use the word allistic, but generally I say non-autistic because I have a few problems with the word allistic.

Here’s another common example that I see which illustrates a misconception of neurotypical:

“I have one autistic child, and one NT child with ADHD”

Actually, the person who said that has two neurodivergent children. Neurodivergent (ND) is a really broad term which can be used to describe anyone “whose neurocognitive functioning diverges from dominant societal norms” (again from Nick Walker’s post).

What about this one:

“They are not autistic, but they do have SPD

That person is not NT with an add on. They are neurodivergent.

Or another example:

“I’m NT, but I experienced a TBI 15 years ago.”

That person is not NT. That person has an acquired form of neurodivergence.

So, what does neurotypical actually mean?

“Neurotypical, often abbreviated as NT, means having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of ‘normal’.”

Nick Walker

Of course, after this explanation, you may be wondering whether the majority of people are actually neurotypical.

It’s possible that the majority, in terms of numbers, are not neurotypical in which case the majority of people are neurodivergent. I have stats that suggest that that isn’t the case, and that neurotypical people do make up the majority, but those stats are based on the pathology paradigm. So, they may not reflect the true extent of the neurodivergent population.

But, did you notice that I said “in terms of numbers”? I emphasise that because majority in terms of numbers is not always reflective of the majority in terms of axes of oppression. Think about it: White people hold the most privilege in terms of oppression along racial lines. Do white people make up the majority of the global population?

Privilege and oppression has very little to do with actual numbers. It has a lot to do with which groups of people hold the power in terms of controlling and dismissing other groups.

So, now that you know what neurotypical actually means, you might want to explore whether you are NT or ND. You don’t have to be autistic to be neurodivergent, but you do have to have neurocognitive functioning that divergences from the dominant societal standard of “normal.”

4 thoughts on “The Word: Neurotypical”

  1. Thanks for this – it’s very clear and helpful in dispelling a lot of people’s misconceptions! I’d be interested in a definition and/or some more examples of what you’re considering to be “’normal’ neurocognitive functioning.” What are your thoughts on the more common mood disorders (depression, anxiety) with regards to the neurotypical/neurodivergent divide? I’ve heard several differing opinions in the past on the subject. And do you think the duration matters in these cases? For instance, is someone who has chronic/recurring depression that began in childhood or adolescence more neurodivergent than someone who experiences an isolated incidence of depression later on in life? Does it matter? Sorry for such a long comment, but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    1. I think – and these are purely my thoughts – that if something impacts on a person’s ability to participate fully in society unless they have accommodations or supports in place, then they would be neurodivergent.

      I also think that we have medicalised many normal emotional states to the point that they get diagnosed and treated as a medical issue when they may just be a completely reasonable reaction to something.

  2. Good blog post. It’s a point that needs to be addressed often. I rarely see it used to mean anything other than not autistic by both parents and people who are autistic. I rarely use the term for that reason. Unless the topic is neurodiversory, rather than autism alone, it isn’t true to the meaning. In not autistic, my son is, but I’m not neurotypical.

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