Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Important Correction Re: Origin of "Neurotypical"

Jim Sinclair posted the following correction on the blog just now:

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."

Therefore it is clear to me that the term is older than I had believed by some five years, and did not originate as a joke, because Jim Sinclair is someone who would have authoritative and trustworthy information on this topic.

I should here also clarify that my essay was an argument for the idea that we should move on from this term because of the reasons I specified, and not an attempt to claim that everyone agrees with me.  Many do, but many do not.

My primary reasons are that the term is often used disparagingly, and that it is easily used by accident against people who are not, in fact, accurately described by it. An important thing I think about this second issue is that many of those who fall under categories known as "mental illness" and "intellectual disability" may be less privileged in some ways as a group, right now, because of political gains we have made since the coining of the term, than are Autistics, and we can do some good here instead of doing harm.

I regret my historical provenance error and thank the ones who had better facts for coming forward.

In other news, I still agree with myself about the idea that we should recognize gains we have made and behave inclusively toward those with all forms of neurodivergence, including those with greater stigma, and that calling people "NTs" does not help us do this.  I also reiterate that while I agree with myself and those who agree with me also agree with me, it is manifest that other people do not.

Thank you for listening.



  1. Thank you for highlighting this. I reiterate my earlier comments that "neurotypical" is a legitimate and useful word if it contrasted with "neuroexceptional" to mean all those (including but not limited to autistics) who are not neurotypical.

    I think you may be making the mistake of thinking that "neurotypical" is identical with "non-autistic" which it most assuredly is not. If so, you're arguing against a straw word.

    "Neuroexceptional" includes autism, but also dyslexia, bipolar, and a host of other labels. "Neurodiversity" includes all people, both neurotypical and neuroexceptional.

  2. Yes, it is very legitimate when used carefully and with precision in this way that you do it, instead of sloppily, with the inclusion of pejoratively. I am not actually arguing against a straw word, because I'm talking about language-in-use instead of in theory, but I am really, really really enamored of the idea of the straw word. I was a lot less happy before reading your post than I am now that you have given me the straw word. :) PS You and I completely agree on the ideal usages (other than that I would rather be divergent than exceptional) and if it were the case that this was how everyone did it, I would have no bone to pick at all.

  3. I use it because I think it's only fair that they have a label. The world isn't composed of "people" and "Autistic people". I also agree that "neurotypical" doesn't just mean non-Autistic- I define it somewhat similarly to Michael, in the literal sense of simply meaning "neurologically typical". As in the way your brain is wired and the way you think is considered the norm and you're in the majority- hence, "typical". I don't mean it as a way to* say "I'm going to get back at you by giving YOU a label/diagnosis too!" I say it with the meaning "there's something inherently wrong about the fact that they are the default "people" and we're "people", but only with a modifier attached.

    *I know you didn't say this- the quotes are mine due to the format I'm writing this in- not quoting you, just to be 100% clear.

  4. I think that the people who have power on society should be called something (besides normal, which is offensive) NT is the best word for that, typical doesn't mean everyone is the same, it just means that in our society that person has power and is accepted.

    Some oppressed groups already have names for the people in power, like white, like NT it's about naming a invisible group, because in general white people, men and NT are never named. The only difference is that we had to create a new term, it's like the trans* community and the term cis people. Because we can't speak about something that doesn't have a name and groups in power are never named, they are assumed to be the standard, even when they have names it's rare for people to use them.
    NT is the same as men, cisgender, white, non-disabled, and all the other groups that have always been called normal. Those terms are extremely important and there is nothing offensive about them, except that people on those groups are so used to being default and called normal that they dislike being labelled just like every other group is labelled.

    There is a real problem that is the erasure by the autistic community of other neurodivergences so we see someone calling all non-autistic people NT when many are not autistic and not NT but that is not a problem with the name but with ignorance, because the same thing happens with disability on the autism community, some people are not informed and write about autism only in posts that are actually about disability in general or about all mental disabilities. There is ableism on the autistic community, especially against other neurodivergences.

    (I wonder when is blogger going to be accessible for commenting on the iPad, they should had changed this problem already, I can only comment as anon and it's really difficult to edit)

  5. Thanks everyone! Awesomely helpful comments here.

    It looks to me now like my primary real problem is turning out to be ableism within the autistic community which is exactly the phrase I was meaning and couldn't find...and since I have seen people who are doing this while using that word, I did over-attach the whole problem to that word, thus making it a partly strawlike with too much focus on their-usage instead of all-usage. Whereas I now see that in real life I do not have to accept the ways ableists use it, even if they are louder, because I can retain the ways decent people use it, in which case the word patently has uses that are useful.

    So what I really super want to say is: Please stop using the word as a slur and especially please stop ableist erasure of people with other neurodivergences.

    One of the ace things about blogs is that it is like talking that you can read in the middle of the night or when you get a chance, and move your ideas forward together in community so they do not stagnate, and it doesn't take two summers gone.

    (And yeah, did you know even the OP can't edit on iPod? Annoying! Half the time can't read comments!

    Thanks again.

    Love, Ib