what is neurotypical? image of a mechanical person with a brain visible, hand to chin, looking thoughtful

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This is a simple explanatory post about the meaning of “neurotypical”.


Just like “neurodiverse” and “neurodivergent,” “neurotypical” is a word we seem to hear more and more often these days. Whether you’ve never heard it before–or whether you know it describes you even if you aren’t entirely sure why–it’s worth unpacking!

Neurotypical Versus Autistic

While neurotypical people are often described in relation to autistic people, “neurotypical” is much more than simply the opposite of neurodivergent.

A neurotypical person can also be someone without dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other neurological differences in addition to autism. 

So how do you define neurotypical?

Generally speaking, neurotypical people are folks who have experienced typical neurological development, including: 

  • No noticeable speech delays as children; 
  • No problems conversing or otherwise interacting with peers; 
  • No sensory issues such as sensitivities to temperature, noises, or crowds.

If you are neurotypical you may have no trouble making eye contact or “small talk” in everyday social interactions. Social cues and norms may be intuitive for you; you may even take them for granted, not understanding how and why your neurodivergent peers miss them or otherwise don’t conform. 

Here’s a playful video by Nathan Selove on this! (direct link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUuX41cechg)

Now, you may be saying, “But I am sensitive to crowds and loud noises! I was always socially awkward growing up. What if I’m neurodivergent and I just don’t know it?”

While that is certainly possible, and one does not necessarily need a formal diagnosis to be considered neurodivergent, it’s important to recognize that being neurotypical is also part of the spectrum of neurodiversity. In other words, being neurodivergent is more than a few characteristics.

As much as autistic people or anyone with a neurodivergent diagnosis, neurotypical people also have an important part to play in the neurodiversity movement. It’s essental to recognize the unique strengths of all people who identify with neurodiversity.

Autistic people, for example, are often known for “thinking outside the box,” or for deep knowledge about a particular subject of special interest. They may display exceptional musical talent or spatial skills. Folks with ADHD sometimes show an ability to hyperfocus, with above average attention to detail and great absorption in or passion for their hobbies or work. 

None of this means that neurotypical people cannot or do not have such talents and other unique traits. Every person–disabled, neurodivergent, non-disabled, or neurotypical–has particular strengths, weaknesses, and limitations.

Understanding and embracing neurodiversity can help people, neurotypical and neurodivergent alike, keep these aspects of themselves and others in perspective. It can also help people all across the spectrum–from neurotypical to neurodivergent–to achieve equity in their daily lives and communities. 

Can you be disabled and still be neurotypical?

Since everyone’s disability affects their brain differently, many disabled people may still be considered neurotypical.

However, as the definition of neurodiversity is still evolving, ideas of who is neurotypical and who isn’t may also continue to change. As it is, a common misconception about people with physical disabilities is that our disabilities “don’t affect our brains.”

In my experience, what people tend to mean by this is that a physical disability does not seem to affect one’s intelligence, but the truth can be a lot more complicated than that; our brains control all of our bodily functions, after all!

With differences (or disruptions) in wiring, whatever their cause, our brains and the ways we use them can be a lot more diverse than it seems, even if the way we present may seem more typical than not. 

How can I best support neurodivergent people?

In my life in the disability community, and now as I continue to embrace the neurodiversity movement, I have learned that the best way to support people is to accept them on their own terms.

As the popular disability community slogan goes, “Nothing about us without us,” and the same applies for neurodivergent folks. Believe in the beauty of neurodivergence, like Meriah was talking about in “Square Pegs in a Round Pegged World“.

Organizations like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) and others run by and for autistic and neurodivergent people are good resources for neurotypical people who want to be of genuine support.

Neurotypical folks can and should be powerful allies in the struggles many neurodivergent people still face for recognition, accommodation, inclusion, and acceptance.

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