What Does It Mean to Be Neurotypical?

The word "neurotypical"may be used to describe individuals whose brain develops and functions in ways that are considered usual or expected by society. This term may also be used to refer to those who do not have developmental disorders, like autism. Symptoms of developmental disorders vary, but they may impact communication, motor skills, behavior, as well as social and/or learning abilities.

You may hear the term "neurotypical" used in schools, at autism conferences and events, and in therapists' offices. You may also hear the term "neurodiverse," which is used to promote developmental differences in individuals. Keep in mind that both of these terms are not formal diagnoses.

Neurotypical personality traits.

Brianna Gilmartin / Verywell

This article explains the meaning of the word neurotypical and offers examples of neurotypical characteristics. It will also explore what neurodiversity means, as well as what the neurodiversity movement is.

What Is a Neurotypical Person?

A neurotypical person is an individual who thinks, perceives, and behaves in ways that are considered the norm by the general population. In addition, institutions such as schools, sports leagues, and places of employment are often designed to accommodate people who fit into these norms.

Keep in mind that there is no stable, universally understood concept of "normal." In fact, "normal" perceptions and behaviors vary greatly depending on many factors such as culture and location. For example, in some cultures, direct eye contact is expected; in others, it's considered rude.

What Are Some Examples of Neurotypical Characteristics?

Neurotypical characteristics may be viewed as positive, negative, or neutral depending on each unique individual's perspective. While neurotypical characteristics may vary, some examples may include a person who can:

  • Develop verbal, physical, social, and intellectual skills at a specific pace, order, and level
  • Function well in complex social settings with large numbers of people
  • Have little or no difficulty dealing with sensory information like intense light, sounds, crowds, and movement
  • Find it easy to engage in team activities including sports, games, and projects
  • Learn in a fast-paced, highly verbal, and competitive setting with large numbers of same-aged peers
  • Perform well under pressure
  • Deal with change
  • Speak, move, and behave in "expected" ways, like at a certain volume and distance from others

Recap

The word "neurotypical" refers to a person whose brain functions in a way that is considered the norm. What is considered the norm can vary depending on many factors.

What Does Neurodiversity Mean?

Neurodiversity is the idea that there are many unique ways to think, behave, and learn. This term aims to embrace differences without saying one way a brain works is better than another. When discussing an individual, in particular, the term "neurodivergent" may be used to describe the way they navigate the world. Some examples of individuals who may identify as neurodiverse include:

  • People with dyslexia, which is a condition that impacts the area of the brain that processes language making reading and spelling difficult
  • Those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which describes a cluster of symptoms that may impact someone's ability to focus and/or sit still
  • Autistic individuals, who may experience social, learning, and behavioral differences that range on a spectrum

Examples of Neurodivergent Characteristics

Neurodivergent abilities vary from person to person. Some examples of strengths may include:

  • Being able to focus intensely on a specific topic
  • Thinking creatively
  • Being detail focused
  • Having above average skills in math, music, and/or art
  • Having strong long-term memory abilities
  • Being very honest
  • Having high energy
  • Being observant
  • Being good at problem solving

Those who identify as neurodivergent may have some difficulty with certain skills and abilities. These will vary from person to person and may include difficulty maintaining eye contact, not being able to complete a task in one sitting, as well as finding it hard to engage in group activities.

Recap

Neurodiversity promotes the idea that each individual thinks, behaves, and learns differently. Those with dyslexia or ADHD, as well as autistic individuals may identify as neurodivergent.

The Neurodiversity Movement

The neurodiversity movement focuses on the idea that developmental differences that may be seen in autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other conditions should not be considered symptoms of disorders. Instead, these characteristics are seen as typical expressions that don't require treatment.

In 2014, the term "neurotypical" had become common enough to become the title of a PBS documentary. This film featured individuals with autism spectrum disorder who describe their views of themselves in relation to "normal" society, who they often refer to as "neurotypicals."

In 2015, Steve Silberman wrote the book "NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity"  which argues that autism spectrum disorders have been a part of the human condition throughout history. By understanding their autism, he argues, some adults are discovering their "neurotribes"—that is, their neurological kin.

Recap

The neurodiversity movement promotes the idea that all brains work differently and one way is not better than another. This movement also highlights that what some call symptoms of disorders are just typical expressions that don't need treatment.

Is Neurodiversity Controversial?

The concept of neurodiversity is controversial. For example, some parents of autistic children and some self-advocates feel that autism is a disorder that requires support and resources. To a large degree, differences in opinion relate directly to differences in personal experience.

When autism (or another developmental disorder) causes significant physical or mental distress, it may be seen as a disorder. However, if it is a source of ability and personal pride, it may be viewed as an asset.

Summary

The word "neurotypical" may be used to refer to individuals who think, learn, and behave in ways that are considered the norm. Institutions like schools and work places are often designed to best suit those who fit into these norms.

The word "neurodiversity" describes the idea that there are many ways to think, learn, and behave. The neurodiversity movement supports the idea that developmental differences should be embraced and seen as typical, instead of treated like symptoms of disorders.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is someone with ADHD considered neurotypical?

    Some experts argue that people with ADHD think and solve problems differently than so-called neurotypical people. This is not a universally-held view nor does it reflect any sort of diagnostic criteria.

  • Does being neurotypical mean you have a mental disorder?

    Absolutely not. The term "neurotypical" is often used to refer to people who have no known developmental disorders.

  • What is the opposite of being neurotypical?

    Some use the term "neurodiverse" to refer to people who have traits and approaches to thinking and learning that are different than what is considered the norm.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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