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Monday, August 20, 2012

Neurotypical? Who Exactly?

So Iv'e been wondering about the term neurotypical.  I regularly use it, but have come to consider it somewhat problematic. There is a black and white gist to the term, that seems to imply there are two types of neurology. NT or autistic, when of course the reality has many, many more shades to it. Where do people with schizophrenia, bi polar, chronic depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, tourettes, acquired brain injuries, personality disorders, addictions, dementia and so on fit in this picture of the neurotypical person?

The term seems to suggest there is a typical neurology. And that those who do not have autism possess this kind of brain. Which equally implies those on the autism spectrum possess autistic brains which somehow share a certain profile, which is quite untrue. While neurologists try to find brain similarities as potential clues of causation, there is increasing acceptance that autism is not a homogenous condition. The massive variety in autistic presentations is evidence that there is much diversity in how the brains of those on the autism spectrum function (and probably look), just like those of us with so called neurotypical minds.

So I'm contemplating that old question, what's normal? Is there really a typical brain? And what happens to the so called standard issue brain when exposed to drugs, trauma, sudden impact, disease? Is it still normal or does it now become a member of the neurodiverse crowd? Just wondering.

Please pop over to Autism and Oughtisms blog to read her excellent response here,
http://autismandoughtisms.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/neurotypical-for-want-of-a-better-word/

18 comments:

  1. I think it's correct to say that the term "neurotypical" has come into vogue because "normal" was considered to imply that autistic people were "abnormal". Basically every few years we realise that a term is inappropriate, misleading, or offensive and replace it with another word that is equally so.

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  2. Yes Jon, you're correct, language is forever evolving. I wonder how this term, NT, might evolve?

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  3. Yeah. . . it makes me uncomfortable saying NT because I feel like NT is today what "normal" was yesterday. . . and tomorrow it'll be offensive. I really feels like that's just around the corner. I sometimes find myself using Autistic to describe my younger daughter and "not autistic" to describe the older. . . which doesn't really describe the older daughter in any way except to say that she's undiagnosed from an autism standpoint.

    Not Autistic sounds too much like newspeak. . . and it's just a hop skip and a jump away from double plus good. I have no idea what to use otherwise.

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    1. Your thoughts very much mirror mine Jim.

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  4. You know what they say; if you can't comment succinctly, write an entire post in response instead...

    http://autismandoughtisms.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/neurotypical-for-want-of-a-better-word/

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    1. Brilliant. I will edit my post above to include the link to yours, which is much more comprehensive, but extends my thoughts on this issue.

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  5. I've thought about this a lot before. I think the label serves a purpose, but I agree it can be problematic! I certainly don't think of myself as having a "typical" mind.

    I honestly disagree with the collectivism that comes with the term, and I don't know if I can completely agree with the idea that the autistic mind is completely and wholly separate from the minds of everyone else who is not autistic, and that all autistic minds are alike. I don't know if I'm ready to abandon the term as autismandoughtisms has suggested, but, yes, at the very least, it has its problems.

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    1. Yep SS, I hear you. I really liked Steve Silberman's point on twitter that the original intention behind the term was cheeky subversion. That I can support :)

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  6. your post (and A and O's) got me thinking all weekend about things! So I penned a few thoughts! www.kazbrooksblog.wordpress.com
    'An MRI scan gets 'messy'

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    1. HI there, I am heading over to check out your post :)

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  7. Neurodiversity--the concept that goes along with the use of neurotypical--was originated in response to autism, but it doesn't refer to just autism. Neurodiversity, at its linguistic heart, refers to wide diversity found among human neurological make-ups. So, everything falls under "neurodiversity," including whatever the perceived "norm" is.

    Neurotypical is, at its best, used less to describe a real brain type and more to describe the cultural assumptions involved when people either assume there is a "correct" brain type or assume that everyone thinks/feels/reacts/processes/experiences the same way they do themselves.

    Race, religion, gender, nationality, and sexual orientation are rather visible forms of diversity. We see them. We recognize them. The vast majority of people acknowledge them, (which is not to say that they accept them, but just that they know of the existence of this form of diversity). Even disability is a recognized form of diversity, when it's something that's visually obvious. Neurological diversity is not as visible, and it's not as well recognized, and it's not acknowledged as a legitimate form of diversity by the mainstream population.

    Neurodiversity is important because of that, because it provides a linguistic framework for something that's hard for most people to see. Unfortunately, the communities that serve the people who are marginalized because of their neurological differences struggle to be accepting amongst themselves and each other, so it's also important for those who are accepting of other neurological differences to help broaden the context of neurodiversity to include all forms of diversity.

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  8. Thanks Stephanie. As an autistic person on twitter said to me, the term NT was coined as tongue in cheek humour. I think it's a shame that is rarely remembered and now is often used in disparaging ways. And yes the term is very much part of the Neurodiverse movement, and as you say the struggle to accept difference comes from within that movement too somewhat ironically

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    1. I didn't know the origins of NT, though that makes sense. It's useful as long as you appreciate it's limitations. A lot of things (social constructs, social norms, environments, ect.) are designed by neurotypicals for neurotypicals, without awareness or consideration for neurological variance.

      The word helps us describe that dominance of design. But, when applied to people, it's an assumption and nothing more.

      Basically, all people are neurological diverse, even those who are closest to the mythic "norm." Much of these differences don't manifest outwardly in any way. Behaviors, thought patterns, processing, and most other neurological activities are internal. And most people are trained to project a sense of normalcy, even if that's not true to the inner experience. This doesn't just affect auties and aspies who try to "pass." The vast majority of people have to adapt in some way or another to "pass," which is part of why that expectation of conformity is so destructive. It doesn't just hurt those who can't pass; it hurts those who can and do.

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    2. I really like this comment Stephanie. When I have frank and open discussions with so called NT people you find under the facade of looking 'normal' there are often layers of anxiety, depression, confusion, second guessing and so on. Of course this is not to say that they are disabled by these thoughts and feelings in the way autistic people are, or others with very real illnesses such as bi polar, but that we simply are often good at hiding our own neurosis and inward struggles.And that's precisely why I wrote the post. A reminder to those who use NT in a black and white, and often dismissive way, that neurology is diverse and complex outside of the autism spectrum, as much as it is on it.

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    3. Well said! Neurological variations can be disabling--both due to design and due to inherent limitations--but variations are real even when they are not.

      The more we open society up to acknowledging that neurological variations are legitimate and worthwhile, the more we can adapt our designs to limit their negative impact; this and the social aspects (not needing to waste energy "passing") the more able we will all be.

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  9. I don't get why so many people seem to think neurotypical just means 'non-autistic'. It doesn't. It means 'neurologically typical'. That means not autistic, not affected by schizophrenia, not bipolar, with an uninjured brain, etc, etc. Show me one person who actually uses the term neurotypical to describe people with brain differences other than autism. Because I have not seen anyone actually do this. The only people I see claiming neurotypical refers only to the absence of autism are people who are opposed to the term. It's a strawman use of the term, not the actual meaning.

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    1. I have in reference to bpd, schizophrenia, dyspraxia, dyslexia

      I think many people would argue that brain injury, doesn't count as you are not born that way

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  10. The word for non-autistic is allistic

    Nuerotypical means exactly what you just discribed

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