Monday, July 22, 2013

Important Notice: There Is No Such Thing As A Neurotypical!


“Neurotypical” was derived from a joke, and the joker was angry, and it makes sense that there was anger there then. http://isnt.autistics.org And this site is pretty funny, and was made a very long time ago. Worth a look, and a moving on, because now is now and then there will be tomorrow, and we’ve miles to go before we sleep.

[Update: I got that last paragraph wrong. Click here for better information: http://tinygracenotes.blogspot.com/2013/07/important-correction-re-origin-of.html ]

But there really is no such thing as a typical neurology, much less a “Neurotypical,” any more than there are properly such things as “Normies,” when it comes to the rich diversity of human life.

Sometimes the people who say it (or call themselves “NTs” for short) are people without Autism, and they are our allies, and they are saying it in order to show that they in their understanding hold the belief that their allegiance should make them take a one-down position by calling themselves a thing that is really quite insulting. I suspect they believe this because other people have mistreated us, and they are assuming guilt by association. Please, friends, stand side by side with us. You are no less than us. No one-down. Together.

Sometimes the people who say it are ones who endlessly identify themselves as “higher functioning” or some other kind of relatedly self-aggrandizing thing and in fact they believe themselves to be superior to others, including not only other Autistics, but also other people in general. I just read a strange article from one known to be such a person urging other such people to be kind to the “NTs” because it is more sort of polite and noblesse oblige or what have you, all the while still using the name-calling term…

But listen: apart from being insulting, and derived from a joke, and long since temporally and culturally outmoded, and theoretically just silly, the whole concept of neurotypicality is fundamentally flawed in ways that *can actually cause harm* and this is why we should all come together and just stop saying it.

Neurodiversity is a real part of the human condition that includes divergence in many directions. It is not only Autism that constitutes a neurodivergence from the alleged (Alleged! Let me say it again: Alleged!) norm, and by the time we tally up the ways in which the brains of humans can differ, I’m hard pressed to believe the neurominorities put together will not secretly constitute an actual numerical majority.

Here is where harm comes in.  Many of the neurological situations a person can have cause even more stigma than Autism now, because we have, of late, gained some political power thanks to ASAN, AWN and some of our freewheeling awesome activists and Social Media Crises (you know who you are and we love you xxoo).  For this reason, people may not feel comfortable being out at work about disclosing that they have bipolar depression, for example, or using it freely with identity first language. We can think of many other examples, not just involving the stigmatization of what are called “mental illnesses” but also neurologies called “intellectual disabilities.” Are such people “NT”? No. But a number of the types of people on the autism spectrum who are happy to call other people “NTs” seem also quick and happy to throw others under the bus if that it what it takes to make sure nobody blames anything on “the spectrum.”

This is not only morally wrong and sickmaking but a social justice misstep and has to stop at once.

In this little article I’m talking mostly to Auts of all stripes but I also want to talk to parents. If you think about Neurodiversity in a Big Tent (thanks to Liz Cagle and Michael Scott Monje Jr. for this superbly visual way of thinking of it, which also articulates some more physical manifestations of neurodivergence) you may find that you have more in common with your kids than you first imagined. You may also have custom-made brains!  Search yourself and your past and see if it isn’t true. Depression? Anxiety? Dyslexia? Band together!


And I, and many, many (ever-increasingly many) of my friends will stand with you.

First, do no harm.

Second, see what we have in common.

Third, let’s have a cup of tea.  Because tea. (There is tea in that thar tent.) (Allies welcome. Tea!)

Thanks for listening.

Love,
Ib

41 comments:

  1. This is true and important. I think we need a word for "close enough to the alleged norm to get privilege from it," but one that includes the word typical within not being the right word kind of makes sense.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You got the word 'alleged' in there so it's AOK by me xxoo

      Delete
  2. May I have coffee? I can bring some :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes! Well said, and I believe it needed to be said, and needs to be thought about and talked about. Love that welcoming tent.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well hey, I have depression, anxiety, AND dyslexia. *joins tent*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome, welcome... what can I get you to drink? :D

      Delete
  5. You have such a delightful way of saying the things that need to be said!! And as a bonus, I got to meet you in Syracuse so now when I read your words I can hear your voice along with them!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. xxoo Lovely to meet you too and I hope to see you many more times!! Thanks for the kind words!

      Delete
  6. Thanks for explaining the origins of "neurotypical." I really had no idea and thought that it was an accepted term to use to identify myself as non-autistic.
    When we know better, we do better. This is me planning on doing better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some people do accept it, cynk. You did nothing wrong. I am calling on the world not to accept a scenario in which our friends feel like they should have to put themselves down, or we feel like we have to put others down. Solidarity and equality. :) Cuppa tea?

      Delete
    2. In fact, the author has been misinformed about the origin of the term "neurotypical". This term was in use years before the ISNT parody site was created. It came about when autistics first started meeting on the internet around 1992. The term was invented as a way to avoid saying "normal", in other words, it was a way to avoid doing exactly what the author is criticizing.

      Delete
    3. This is possible. But as it is now used pejoratively, I criticize it in present usage.

      Delete
    4. Then the correct solution surely is to stop using it pejoratively, not to stop using it.

      Delete
    5. Are you able to tell by looking when someone has a hidden disability of the types I mentioned? I think not.

      Delete
    6. That actually is *not* the origin of the term. And it *is* an accepted term to use. Sorry Ibby, but you've got the history wrong. I was part of the conversation where the term originated.

      Delete
    7. Yes, I see from Jim Sinclair's more complete answer below what the history is, and will post a correction. I do not dispute that some people think the term is still accepted, but I am arguing that since it is now used disparagingly, we should move on from it in order to recognize the gains we have made politically and assist others in making such gains.

      Delete
  7. *Enters the tent and pours a cup of tea*
    Love the tent idea. There are so many ways that a few people can have something different about their minds & brains. So many people share at least the experience of being "different," and often a lot more.

    It's funny, I remember being really excited when autism researchers started talking about "neurotypical" people rather than "normal" or "healthy" people. It hadn't occurred to me that neurotypical was a nasty word, so this was eye-opening.

    But, what best to call people who don't qualify for anything in the DSM, and who are at neither extreme in IQ or any measurable skills? Just based on statistics, there should be many people like this (even if there's "no such thing as an average brain," I bet they're at least a large minority).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are probably right. I do not think it is important to call people things other than their names, unless it is directly relevant in context. In such cases, the words may present themselves. We can be proudly neurodivergent without having to call others pejoratively some kind of 'normate' I think. We do not know the contents of their minds. Let the people name themselves.

      Delete
  8. I use the phrase NT because I haven't heard another suitable one to describe those other children. Hubby hates it and won't use it. I have used SI before or Standard Issue to jokingly imply we have the enhance model of child whereas my friends have the Standard Issue version.
    My older son is described as G&T by the school, no, not Gin and Tonic but Gifted and Talented which is the program they put the kids that achieve the best grades in the class on. So I guess he's not NT or SI either?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hehe, Gin and Tonic. We thought of naming our twins that to freak people out, as it happens. I like using people's names, or what interests them. Perhaps star signs?

      Delete
    2. PS Jo I think your nickname is the cleverest ever.

      Delete
  9. Tea, two sugars. I've brought chocolate croissants to pass 'round. xoxo

    ReplyDelete
  10. So....what do we say instead of NT? And I particularly love the description "custom-made brain". I am going to use that the next time I need to tell someone about my son. I can see it now:
    Random person: "So what's going on with your kid?" (not that anyone has been that blunt)
    Me: He has a custom-made brain.
    Random Person: Oh.
    I mean, what else could you really say to THAT?

    I'll have some tea in celebration of the royal baby.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am fascinated that there is such a strong belief that there must be a particular word for this. I will think on it some more. I recall a band called 4 Non-Blondes.

      Delete
    2. PS if you do get to use that custom made thing in a real life sentence please please please come back and tell me lol :)

      Delete
    3. I guess we just think that if some people get a label, everyone should be able to have a label. I dunno. Also, if you want people to stop using NT, you're probably going to have to come up with something to replace it.
      I will certainly let you know when I use "custom-made brain" in real life. Now I'm probably just going to look for an opportunity. :-)

      Delete
    4. Kassiane and others have a useful word they've been going with called "allistic" which means not autistic in the same way that "cisgendered" means not transgendered. These are clever words to me because they are derived from each other etymologically instead of being derived from some version of the idea of normal. So they are truly relevant and precise.

      Delete
  11. This is a post is very thought-provoking. I had always understood the term "neurotypical" in the way Martijn described, as a less loaded alternative to "normal," without the baggage that comes with it. Rather than being synonymous to "normal", "typical" to me really meant "more common" -- having a meaning akin to "having a neurological makeup that's more commonly found in a neurodiverse population." I embraced it back when because of that understanding (although it's true, as you say, that it contains some implied assumptions, and is overly simplistic, potentially lumping together people with very different neurological makeups based on assumptions drawn from external observation).

    I've certainly not ever used it in a pejorative sense. My husband is not autistic, and I have typically referred to him as neurotypical, for want of a better term. I certainly don't use it as an insult to him...for me it was an alternative to the vastly unequal construct of "normal/abnormal." To me, saying someone was neurotypical, while I was autistic, was a way of equalizing. Delineating two different, but equal neurological configurations.

    The first time I ever heard the term referred to as any kind of a pejorative term was in a video by Oliver Sacks in which he referred to it as autistic people's "cheeky" way of referring to people who aren't autistic. That turn of phrase itself made me uncomfortable, as "cheeky" to me often implies someone of lesser status being impudent to someone of higher status. Are non-autistic people being "cheeky" by referring to us as autistic, or any of the myriad other terms that are used to refer to autistic people: Aspergerian, autie, aspie, Aspergian, etc.?

    The fact is, there are a lot of terms frequently used in conjunction with autism that are at the very least imprecise, if not incorrect -- but they also tend to be the terms in most common use that more people understand/are familiar with. It can be difficult to be as precise and correct as we want to be, while still speaking a language that is familiar enough to others to convey what we want to say. At least, that's been my experience. Personally, I try to do my best to balance all these concerns...to use words others are comfortable with and which will get my point across -- I like to hope I'm successful more times than not, but I'm sure I make my share of mistakes. I'm as fallible as the next human being.

    I agree with you 100% in that there is no "normal" -- an argument I made to someone not so long ago about the phrase "differing abilities." My first reaction was to say -- what's your baseline? Everyone has abilities that are different from one another. "Normal" seems to exist more as an external perception based on assumption, rather than any kind of objective reality. Yet, so much of the world functions as if there really is a "normal." I've never known anyone who truly felt themselves to actually be part of that number -- because everyone who believes in the concept seems to have a slightly different idea of what it means.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post and discussion. For many of the reasons given here, I continue to use "neurotypical" in a non-pejorative way. As for Lynne, for me "typical" means "more common;" I don't relate to the concept of "normal" -- I like the phrase from the DD Act: "Disability is a natural part of the human condition."

    I use the word "neuroexceptional" to denote anyone who is not neurotypical. By "exceptional" I mean as in "exception to the rule" not superior; just different. To me, the words "neurodiverse" and "neurodiversity" (should) include both neurotypical and neuroexceptional people.

    From the points of view of neuroscience and genetics, there is little justification for drawing sharp distinctions between many labels (most or maybe all of which, to me, do not belong in the DSM since they are not "disorders" but different ways of being in the world). I include autism, bipolar, schizophrenia, severe depression, ADHD, dyslexia, and others in this group. For clinicians, these labels may be a useful description of a collection of behaviors, but they all seem to arise from brain structures that have much more in common with each other than they do with neurotypical brains.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Normal is usually a weapon in one way or another, but I have heard some very interesting points in this discussion.

    I prefer to say I am neurodivergent rather than neuroexceptional, because it sounds more badass, and I do understand that this seems to imply I am divergent from something; but I also prefer to think of myself as being divergent from theoretical constructs I find damaging rather than from any actual people (unless I get in a mood and they are acting like damaging theoretical constructs, hehe).

    It is making me happy to hear that so many of us are not using the term pejoratively, but I do wonder how to sift that out in actual practice in the bigger picture. When a term which is often used as a slur is used as a non-slur, how can we tell? An intended insult does not magically become non-insulting because the target is higher in privilege-calculus, although there is certainly something to be said for the insult's becoming non-insulting if the target is patently not insulted (though it does not ever become non-insulting if, when the target is hurt, the speaker simply proclaims good intentions, cf r-word, "I hate pc crap," etc. etc.).

    But yes. If you are able to manage to call people NTs and they do not mind at all, or find it a term of endearment, there now seems to me to be no reason in that context for you to have to stop. I am not telling you what to call your husband, and would not want to. I call my wife Layenie, Birdy, and Darling, for the most part, and if someone had something to say about that I think I would look askance. Thanks for your thoughtful replies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I love what you said MFW about ways of being in the world and why we should not draw sharp distinctions. This is why I want to open the tent and not throw people out of the tent and under the bus.

      Delete
  14. Oh... how I appreciate you, Ibby ♥ Thank you for you!

    ReplyDelete
  15. The term "neurotypical" did NOT originate the way you claim. It was coined on the old SJU Autism list, during the "Snore Wars" in the aftermath of the 1993 conference where "Don't Mourn For Us" was presented. It was coined to do exactly what Alyssa said: " I think we need a word for "close enough to the alleged norm to get privilege from it."

    Please get your facts right before you start tearing things down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for this historical correction. I will post a correction entry to the blog.

      Delete
  16. Dear Ibby, I love your post and while I'd likely be described as "NT" I know I am far from it & would guess there is no true "NT" at all... and, and, and... I LOVED spending time with you in Syracuse with my co-worker pondering life & hatching plans to conquer the world in the bar that Tuesday evening. Here's to hoping our paths cross again in real-life-in-person. ~Jess

    ReplyDelete
  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete