Written by:
August 14, 2018

Neurotypical & neurodivergent

Last updated on March 14, 2021

You might have seen terms like neurotypical and neurodivergent in the autism literature; if not, you certainly will on this website. But what do these terms mean?


Neurovariance

To distinguish between autistic people, “typically developing” people, and non-autistic people with “atypical” brain wiring (all of which fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity) the following terms are used:

Neurotypical

Neurologically typical, i.e. without a defined neurological difference.

Originally used to refer to everyone non-autistic, the term has narrowed to refer to people with typical neurology/development.

Allistic

Also referred to as nypical, the term refers to all non-autistic people, which comprises both neurotypicals and non-autistic neurodivergent people.

This is what was originally referred to as neurotypical.

Neurodivergent

An umbrella term inclusive of people with diverse mental and behavioral differences/disorders.

The term refers to individuals with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, dissociative disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, and eating disorders. Do note that the term ‘disorder’ is very questionable in some cases. Read more about that here:

‘D’ is for ‘difference’

Hierarchy

Have a look at the Euler diagram below for a visualization of what these terms encompass, and with which terms they overlap.

Embrace Autism | Neurotypical & neurodivergent | diagram NeurodiversityNeurotypicalityMap

Also note that ‘neurodiversity’ refers to a larger group of people, and so a single individual cannot be “neurodiverse”. Rather, they would be called ‘neurodivergent’, as you can see in the diagram.


Use of terms

A lot of people—admittedly myself included in the past—have been using the term ‘neurotypical’ incorrectly to refer to non-autistics, but it’s probably better to make a distinction between those without autism, and those without any neurodivergence to speak of.

If we are discussing people who are not autistic but may or may not be neurodivergent—including for example people with ADHD—then the correct term to use is ‘allistic’ or ‘nypical’.


In context

Particularly in scientific studies, it can be beneficial to have a “pure” control group, where autistic people can be compared with people that have been verified not to have any type of neurodivergence. In this case, you would have a neurotypical control group.

On the other hand, you may also want an “impure” control group if you want to compare autism with the general population, in which case the control group would have to be a large, selectively randomized sample. In this case, you would have an allistic control group. In many research papers, you will find the term typically developing (TD).


Disclaimer

In our posts, we will refrain from using ‘allistic’ and ‘nypical’, as these terms have not reached sufficient popularity for efficient use; we feel it would become obtrusive to explain the terms in each post in which they are used. But we will use ‘neurotypical’ and ‘non-autistic’ when appropriate, and may at times use the term ‘neurodivergent’.

It may occur at times, however, that we will use the term ‘non-autistic’ where technically ‘neurotypical’ is meant, as not all the research on which we base our posts use the terms in their appropriate contexts, and we cannot always verify which of the terms the researchers intended.

Although less likely, it may also happen that we ourselves use the terms interchangeably at times. Sorry about that.

References

This article
was written by:
martin-silvertant
Co-founder of Embrace Autism, I’m living up to my surname as a silver award-winning graphic designer. Besides running Embrace Autism and researching autism, I love typography and practice type design. I also fight dodecahedragons during sleep onset.I discovered I’m autistic when I was 19, and was diagnosed at 25.

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