We Need a New Word 2

The word “neurotypical”, whether in the sense of “not autistic” and the more general sense of “not mentally ill”, has an array of problems. Let’s split the word into it’s roots and take them on that way. I’ll be starting from the back, since that’s the one I’ve had complaints with for longer.

“Typical”. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. Sticking it into a longer word is a step up from using “normal”, which is possibly the second-worst six-letter word starting with “n” in the English language, no mean feat. But it’s not really far from “normal”. No social justice movement has ever won by labelling the privileged group “normal”, and using a synonym with different connotations isn’t much better. I’ve seen a few alternatives suggested. “Convergent” is the one I’ve used the most, but that term leaves invisible what the privileged group’s way of thinking converges to. I expect that dragging that societal norm out into the open is going to be essential to our winning our rights, so anything that leaves it invisible is problematic.

Going to the front of the word, the “neuro” part is also problematic. That autistic people can exist in multiple systems with non-autistic headmates means that there is no fundamental difference between how an autistic brain and a non-autistic brain works; brain/mind conflation erases multiple systems. The “say what you mean” principle applies to multiple systems as strongly as it does for trans singlets; non-autistic people merely use their brains differently from autistic people, they do not necessarily have fundamentally different brains.

Replacing this part is also tricky. “Psycho-” works as a prefix better than “neuro-” here, although that has it’s own problems where it feels to me like it emphasizes mental illness more than development path. Which is perfectly fine for the more general use of “neurotypical”, but actually might reveal a third problem with the word. Autistic and not autistic are specific experiences, and a word that differentiates non-autistic but mentally ill and non-autistic not mentally ill people is necessary, or even just differentiating developmental disability from mental illness (both of those . My reluctance to use “psycho-” might also itself be a form of ableism directed at the mentally ill, and a desire to separate myself from them.

Right now I’m at a loss, and just going to say “non-autistic” or “not autistic”. It’s a really imperfect solution, since it describes a privileged group as merely being not in the oppressed group rather than as being a distinct group of their own. “Developmentally abled” works as an alternative, too, although focusing on development path emphasizes autistic children in the same way as the caretaker centerers do.

5 Responses to We Need a New Word 2

  1. I really dislike the word neurotypical, both for the reason you sort of bring up, which is that it’s supposed to mean like 8 different things but is usually just used to mean “doesn’t have autism,” but also because I dislike any language usage that people hold up as being more important than attitudes and action. Although I use person-first language usually (I totally understand why most Autistic people don’t, though), nothing grosses me out more than some disabled or non-disabled person bossing disabled people for not using person-first language. It’s not the important part, guys. And I see something similar with neurotypical or NT where it is used to offset the idea that some people are normal, but the person speaking obviously totally think of “NTs” as normal. Your quest to come up with a more accurate term is a good one, I think, but I also just would rather people just say “doesn’t have autism,” “non-disabled,” or whatever, than think that a cutesy term like NT is actually helping anything.

  2. Eric Johns says:

    How’s this?


  3. Eric Johns says:

    Of course I left the wrong URL as my Website. oh dear I need to go to bed. Also I’m increasingly agreeing that “typical” is no real improvement over “normal.” And Amanda’s thoughts on this make a whole lot of sense to me.

  4. TAL9000 says:

    I saw it. I heartily approve; “allistic” does everything we want.

    So sorry for taking so long to moderate comments; I just finished finals at my school.

  5. […] solve the problems discussed in TAL9000‘s “We Need a New Word 2,” as well as some other issues with the word […]

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