Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NT, Or Not NT

Originally posted December 2005

I don't use "neurotypical" or "NT" when discussing the non-autistic majority population. That is by design. Yes, it's a convenient shorthand term for non-autistic folks, and it's not as cringe-inducing as "normal," but it suffers from a number of very unfortunate linguistic woes.

The chief problem with the word "neurotypical" is that it abjectly concedes what ought to be a huge point of contention—that there is such a thing as a typical human brain. Let's do a thought-exercise here: Imagine what it would be like if other minorities used such terminology to describe the majority group. Can you picture Muslims referring to Christians as religion-typical? Black activists calling whites color-typical? Feminists speaking of men as gender-typical? Hispanics describing Anglos as language-typical?

The absurdity is obvious in all of these contexts. In today's multicultural society, the concept of diversity means that there is no standard human template against which all other groups are measured. Society regularly exhorts us to celebrate our diversity and to respect others' differences. Most of us wouldn't dream of asserting that our particular group, whether racial, religious, or whatever, ought to be described as the "typical" human.

Unless we're talking about the configuration of our brains. Then everybody gets a free pass from obeying the usual rules of respect for diversity. Spouting stereotypes about neurological minorities is lauded as a charitable act of raising awareness. We are taught to accept, as if it were scientific fact, the social value judgment that there is only one "normal" type of brain. Edicts determining how many of us qualify as members of the exalted "normal" caste are regularly handed down by society's high voodoo priests, the psychologists, after they ritually slaughter a white bull and examine the stinking entrails for portents of doom. (Okay, I made that up, but can you think of a better explanation of where all the bullshit in the DSM-IV came from?)

This brings me back to what else is wrong with the word "neurotypical." Not only does it assume the existence of a typical brain, it also fails to challenge the authority of the psychologists to define a typical brain in any way they wish. Because "neurotypical" is generally used to refer to a person who has no psychological diagnoses, it necessarily accepts as legitimate the psychologists' use of diagnostic classifications as tools of social segregation.

Moreover, because "NT" is also used as the opposite of autistic, it necessarily implies that whatever a typical human being may be, if you happen to be autistic, then you ain't it! Apparently, in this scheme of things, a typical human being can be of any race, gender, ethnicity, religion, height, weight, age, national origin, or thousands of other natural differences that we take for granted—but we'll all be playing a jolly game of ice hockey in hell before an autistic person ever gets shown the same tolerance. In short, autistics who use the terms "neurotypical" and "NT" are meekly surrendering to second-class citizenship forevermore.

A particularly ominous development in recent months has been the perversion of the word "neurodiversity" into "ND," which has been variously defined to mean neurodiverse, neurodivergent, neurodifferent—in other words, a person who does not have a typical brain, as classified by the psychologists. One of the worst offenders in twisting the word to fit the status quo is
DANDA, but others are to blame as well. They have completely missed the point of neurodiversity and are using the word as just another politically correct entry in the long and infamous list that begins with "idiot" and ends with terms like "mentally challenged."

Let's take a look at what the word "neurodiversity" really means. (This definition comes from
Word Spy.)

"The neurodiversity movement is based on the belief that there is no such thing as normal when it comes to the human mental landscape. The neurotypical person simply does not exist. Together we display a wide variety of neurological behaviors and abilities..."

Now go back and read that quote again.

Neurodiversity is a powerful and radical concept that is capable of transforming our world.

Don't piss it away.

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  • Within the fields of cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychiatry, there is controversy over whether or not "neurotypical" exists at all. So the scientific underpinnings of "neurotypical" are shaky, at best.

    By Blogger GadFlier, at 2:58 PM  

  • "In short, autistics who use the terms 'neurotypical' and 'NT' are meekly surrendering to second-class citizenship forevermore."

    Meek? I've also seen people use it as an insult, in the having-social-skills-makes-you-a-sheep-you-neuro-typical-loser sense.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:54 AM  

  • As someone who is neither autistic nor neurotypical (even if there were such a thing, the term would clearly not apply to me), I find the autistic/neurotypical distinction rather strange. Once I was almost describing my daughter as "my neurotypical child", when I suddenly thought, "Hey, she's not autistic, but she has a lot of tics, possibly enough to have Tourette's Syndrome. Why was I about to describe her as NT just because her brother is autistic and she's not? Her neuro sure isn't typical."

    By Anonymous Sherri, at 8:50 PM  

  • I actually saw a post by someone coining the terms neuromajority and neurominority to describe non-autistics and autistics respectively. I think those terms are appropriate and recognize that we are a 1/150 minority compared to the non-autistic 149/150 majority.

    By Anonymous Sadderbutwisergirl, at 5:18 PM  

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