What Does It Mean to Be Neurotypical?

teens eating pizza
teens eating pizza. teens eating pizza

Because it came into common use so recently, the word "neurotypical" has no absolute medical or psychological meaning. It doesn't describe a particular personality, trait or set of abilities. Instead, it is really best understood in the negative: "neurotypical" means, simply, not autistic or otherwise diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental difference. In other words, neurotypicals are intellectually, cognitively, and developmentally normal.

The term neurotypical is also the forerunner of another even newer term, "neurodiversity." The neurodiversity movement is built around the idea that autism spectrum disorders (as well as other developmental differences such as ADHD) are not disorders to be treated but differences to be respected. Members of the neurodiversity movement are often opposed to the idea of a cure for autism.

By 2014, the term "neurotypical" had become common enough to become the title of a PBS documentary featuring autistic individuals describing their own perceptions of themselves in relationship to "normal" society: Via the worlds of 4-year-old Violet, teenager Nicholas and middle-aged wife and mother Paula, along with provocative interviews with other autistics, the film recounts the challenges they face living among "normal" people--whom many of them call "neurotypicals."

Neurotypicals are generally assumed to have certain qualities in common -- usually those qualities that are often described as the "deficits" or challenges of autism.

Neurotypicals are though of have having strong social and communication skills, making it easy for them to navigate new or socially complex situations. They are assumed to make friends and establish romantic relationships easily, and to understand the "hidden agenda" of expected behaviors that smooth interactions at work and in community situations.

Neurotypicals are also, unlike people with autism, assumed to no sensory issues, and thus are assumed to find it easy to take part in loud, crowded, hot, or visually overwhelming settings.

On the flip side, neurotypicals are sometimes looked down on by people on the autism spectrum because of their willingness to unquestioningly follow social and societal dictates. For example, neurotypicals are more likely than people with autism to take part in the inane small talk, tell white (or black) lies, go along to get along even when it means behaving immorally, and otherwise allow society to impose ridiculous or even hurtful rules. Neurotypicals are also thought to be more likely than people with autism to hook up sexually without much regard for long term emotional outcomes, to bully others in order to gain social status, and to become competitive or jealous.

Of course, there are very few people who actually fit the neurotypical mold. Many non-autistic people who would not qualify for any developmental diagnosis are shy, socially awkward, and have a hard time establishing and keeping friendships and romantic relationships.

Conversely, there are plenty of "normal" people who avoid hookups, bullying, small talk, and other problematic social behaviors.

Pronunciation: noor - oh - tihp - ik - ahl

Also Known As: NT, typically developing, normally developing, typical, normal

Examples: My neurotypical brother can't understand why it's so hard for me to make friends.

Continue Reading