“Neurotypical” is a term that’s used to describe individuals with typical neurological development or functioning. It is not specific to any particular group, including autism spectrum disorder.

In other words, it’s not used to describe individuals who have autism or other developmental differences.

The terms “neurotypical,” “neurodivergent,” and “neurodiverse” originated as a more comprehensive way to describe autism.

Currently, these terms do not represent formal medical categories. But some people in the autism community and the neurodiversity movement use them to promote acceptance.

People who support the use of terms such as neurotypical and neurodiverse believe that autism doesn’t need a cure. They believe the differences it presents in people should be respected and celebrated.

They might use the term “neurotypical” to talk about the ways that individuals who aren’t on the spectrum can lack strengths that those on the spectrum have.

For example, neurotypical people may be too focused on material things or go along with social norms that can be hurtful or destructive to themselves or others.

Not everyone in the autism community agrees that autism isn’t a disorder, so the terms are still somewhat controversial.

Some believe that autism is a disorder, so it deserves research and funding. A 2014 study found that there are certain brain structure and neurotransmitter abnormalities in autistic people.

The term “neurodiversity” refers to a larger category of people with varying neurological differences, as well as neurotypical people. Many people identify as neurodiverse, including people with:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • depression
  • dyslexia
  • intellectual disabilities
  • schizophrenia

Autistic people, individuals on the spectrum, or those who have other neurological differences are referred to as “neurodivergent.”

Instead of seeing autism as a disorder, people use the term “neurodiverse” to recognize the rich differences, abilities, and strengths autistic people and other neurodiverse people have.

The neurodiversity movement focuses on promoting the full inclusion of neurodiverse individuals and their individual rights to be accepted as they are.

In a 2016 review, some researchers described autism as a human variant with extreme advantages. Instead of seeing autism as a disorder that needs fixing, they see autism as a human characteristic, like having brown hair or being left-handed. Being neurodiverse simply means having a brain that’s wired differently.

What characterizes neurotypical people?

Neurotypical individuals are often described in relation to autistic people, so they may have:

  • no problem interacting with peers or having conversation
  • no noticeable speech delays as children
  • no sensory issues, such as not being able to tolerate crowds, loud noises, or being too hot or too cold
  • the ability to adapt to change

But neurotypical doesn’t simply mean you’re not autistic. A neurotypical person can also be someone without dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, or other neurological differences.

What characterizes neurodivergent people?

There’s no one way to characterize neurodivergent people. That’s because many people identify as neurodivergent, including autistic people and people with ADHD. Even within the autistic community, the signs of autism can vary.

For example, the signs of autism may be different for adults versus children. The National Institute of Stroke and Neurological Disorders lists the following as typical signs of someone who is autistic:

  • a lack of babbling or pointing by the age of 12 months
  • poor eye contact
  • no single words by the age of 16 months
  • no two-word phrases by the age of 2 years
  • no smiling or social responsiveness
  • not responding to their name
  • fixation on lining up toys or objects, or watching toys move or spin
  • repeating actions or sound over and over

In older children or adults, signs can include:

  • low social interaction
  • inability to initiate or hold a conversation
  • lack of social play
  • repetitive language
  • intense, focused interest, usually on an object or subject
  • fixation on certain routines or rituals
  • difficulty maintaining eye contact

Neurodiversity comes in many different forms, from autism to dysgraphia to ADHD. It also comes in varying degrees. For example, some people with autism have higher support needs than others.

The current edition of “the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” has placed several diagnoses under the category of autism spectrum disorder. These include:

  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • childhood disintegrative disorder
  • pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified

The DSM classifies autistic spectrum disorder with three levels of severity. Severity is based on how much impairment you live with in the areas of social communication and restricted or repetitive behaviors.

  • Level 1 is given when you need support.
  • Level 2 is given when you need substantial support.
  • Level 3 is given when you need very substantial support.

Neurodiverse people have many abilities. Every individual has their own unique strengths and characteristics that can be acknowledged and celebrated.

For example, if you’re autistic, some of your strengths might be:

  • being able to approach situations differently and think “outside of the box”
  • strong abilities with systems, such as computer programming and mathematics
  • creativity
  • no pressure to conform to social norms that may not go alongside your own personal idea of happiness
  • musical abilities
  • above-average attention to detail
  • strong visual-spatial skills
  • skills in art and design

No matter what language you use to describe autism spectrum disorder, it’s important to recognize the different abilities and strengths that neurodiverse people have. There are many ways to look at autism, so discovering new outlooks and theories can help you view autism in a new light.

If you or a loved one has autism, find a local support group, therapist, or other mental health professional who can help you discuss some of the strengths of being neurodivergent.