Countless times I’ve been asked why I stopped using “neurotypical” to describe non-autistic people and started using “allistic” instead, and I haven’t been sure how to explain it—until now. Many other bloggers have articulated better how I feel about the terminology I used before and use currently, so I’ll link to those posts as I can.
What is neurotypical?
Neurotypical (NT) is presumptuous. The mind of a neurotypical is “typical”, in that there is nothing out of the socially acceptable norm in the neurology. The more I read about atypical minds (extraordinary neurology, as determined by what it socially acceptable) the more I realized that all minds are extraordinary.
Who’s to say neurotypicals aren’t the ones who are different? If life evolves1, what if neurodivergent minds are the new version of humanity? I believe neurodiversity is the future, whether the lot of society is ready to accept and embrace it or not.
What allism is and why I use “allistic”
Allism is non-autistic. ‘Twas invented by Zefram to “precisely complement autism”, based on the Greek word “allos”, meaning “other”, while “autos” in “autism” means “self”.
Like Savannah, I don’t agree that “neurotypical” and “allistic” are interchangeable.
I use “allistic” instead of “people with allism”, because 1) I imagine allistic people wouldn’t like that too much, and 2) I prefer identity-first language around here when referring to my autism and use it accordingly.
The exception is when someone specifically requests me to use person-first language when referring to them; I respect language preferences selected by other autistic people/people from the community in discussion. I don’t, however, respect language preferences selected by people not from the community directly (i.e. the allistic parent of an autistic child) who decide upon a language preference for a particular member of said community, regardless of their age or “ability” to voice (whether verbally or non) their preference.
Why I stopped using “neurotypical”/seldom use it
Aside from the text above, I personally feel that, while there is a huge divide between the autism and the autistic communities, the usage of “neurotypical” divides us all into two groups of people: those socially accepted by society and those not. While I still, in my day-to-day life, feel the divide as real and big as it can be, I feel as though the only way we may be able to bridge the gap and build up a dam is by instead considering that, “Hey, this person mayn’t be as neurotypical as I thought!”
More and more, I saw “neurotypical” used as an epithet just as people have used my autism, PTSD, depression, dissociative identity disorder—the list goes on. I didn’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want the divide causing us to do splits as we try to stand our ground on each side whilst they continue to fall apart.
I also imagine, because not everyone is “neurotypical” though they may seem, when it is assumed they are such, it feels a lot like when someone assumes or thinks I’m not autistic.
I do use “neurotypical” during generalizations to discuss hypotheticals and socially acceptable norms, but I try not to refer to specific people as such.
I don’t know if this is a thing or anyone else within the community has noticed, but I feel as though many more neurodivergent people exist than we think, but have been conditioned (or trained) into people who do not embrace this, not unlike someone with internalized homophobia. I have been consuming a lot of historical fiction and have found it was culturally acceptable, at least in Europe, New England, and parts of Canada to be so obsessed with what people thought of you that you had to work more at pleasing others—this, combined with what I know of the many “treatments” to all-washing autism, has led me to think that “neurotypical-washing” is a thing happening under our noses.
Because of neurotypical-washing, I don’t find it acceptable to refer to any one person as “neurotypical”. OF COURSE, being politically correct 100 percent of the time is as impossible as refraining from peeing a little when we laugh too hard, so I’m not saying I never screw up and contradict myself—I’m human; I’m gonna contradict myself, ’cause that’s what we humans do. I just think that, because of this washing going on, it’s not fair not only to the person at hand, but to the rest of the community as a whole. It doesn’t help us; it’s like if we called someone neurotypical because they didn’t look ____.
Why I use identity-first language
A pink hair tie is holding my hair up in a bun at the moment of my writing this. It’s hot, and I’m sick, so it’s less maintenance—blowing snot or coughing up mucus and it landing in my hair is a mistake I’ll make once and never again. I’m wearing it. You could say I have it, sure—I have a pink hair tie in my hair.
However, if I took the pink hair tie out of my hair, I would no longer have it. Neurology cannot be taken away or reprogrammed. My neurology will always be a part of me. No, it doesn’t define me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not always present—it is. I cannot separate my allistic and autistic self, because I don’t have an allistic self in my body. I am autistic. My brain’s operating system is autistic.
You wouldn’t say, “She has gayness,” about a gay person; or, “She has cisgenderness,” about a cisgender person; or, “She has femaleness,” about a person identifying as female.
My hair is auburn chestnut. I’m a chick. I am autistic.
- I believe in creationism, so while I don’t believe we come from monkeys, I do believe evolution exists. ↩