Neurotypical Syndrome: Lessons for Neurotypicals
Autism spectrum disorder is the fastest growing disability in the US. 1 percent of US children ages 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder (1) and it is currently estimated that one in 110 births is born with an autism spectrum disorder. (2) Over the last few years I have been involved in supporting youth on the spectrum and have increasingly been confronted with the question about our understanding of normalcy. I was intrigued when I learned the word “neurotypical” which was invented by the autism community to describe people who are not on the autism spectrum. Neurotypical people have neurological development that is considered normal by society especially as it relates to understanding language and social cues. Generally, I am neutotypical suggesting that I don’t show behaviors that make people think I have a neurological disorder or disability, which makes my life much easier in our society. Over the course of the fall semester I have learned a lot from the college students with Asperger’s whom we support. For example, one student became incredibly anxious and frustrated when one of his assignments prescribed a 350 word essay. He wrote a great essay but after several attempts was ready to give up because he couldn’t end with 350 words. Regardless of numerous revisions, he either had to many or too few words to meet the 350 word criteria described in the course syllabus. We discussed with him that the instructor used the 350 word requirement as guide to the length of the paper, not that the essay had to be exactly 350 words. We worked with him to understand a subtlety of the English language and finally convinced him that his 357 word essay would be accepted. But we never talked with the instructor about how she could relieve this and similar situations for future students! Our response is typical of the Neurotypical Syndrome which I recently learned about. While a bit lengthy, I include the full description from the Diabolic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(3) (DSM IV) for your reflection. These are the criteria for Neurotypical Sundrome: 1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following: a. marked impairments in the use of multiple verbal behaviors such as literal language and honesty to regulate social interaction b. failure to develop peer relationships with non-neurotypical people, need to bully non-neurotypical people and frequent inappropriate attempts to manipulate other people c. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share own interests with other people (e.g. constant use of “small talk” indicating a lack of expression to other people of anything interesting) d. lack of social or emotional reciprocity, believing that all other individuals ought to conform to the neurotypical’s way of thinking. 2. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following: a. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest, such as children, gossip or reality television, that is abnormal either in intensity or focus b. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals, such as wearing a tie, high heels or other uncomfortable clothing (e.g. suffering painful blisters or athlete’s foot rather than wearing socks with sandals) c. stereotyped and repetitive manners (e.g., ritualistic thanking of people for useless, unsolicited and unwanted gifts) d. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects, such as tags indicating what brand a product is 3. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. For example, neurotypical people are frequently depressed, because they are worried what other people think about them. They frequently cannot succeed professionally, because they lack the curiosity to gain any marketable expertise in any area. 4. There is a clinically significant general delay in language. As children, neurotypicals often begin speaking by just saying random words that are not arranged into sentences and frequently speak a pidgin form of their native tongue until about age six. They have an abnormal sensory sensitivity to tone of voice, leading to attention deficits that render them unable to comprehend the literal meaning of words. Neurotypicals are frequently unable to understand that a person asking a question is not communicating anything other than the desire to get the answer to the question. They frequently attempt to answer questions before the speaker has even finished asking the question due to a delusional belief that they can read other people’s minds. … Neurotypicals ask questions that they don’t want answered, and frequently say “I know” when told something that they could not possibly know. 5. There is a clinically significant delay in cognitive development and curiosity about environmental systems in childhood, which often continues throughout a neurotypical’s life. 6. Rigid conformity to social norms cannot be excused as a result of living under the control of a fascist government 1 M.D. Kogan, S. J. Blumberg, L. A. Schieve, C. A. Boyle, J. M. Perrin, R. M. Ghandour, G. K. Singh, B. B. Strickland, E. Trevathan, & P. C. vanDyck (2009). Prevalence of parent-reported diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder among children in the US, 2007. Pediatrics, 124(5), pp. 1395-1403. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-1522 2 Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders - Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, United States, 2006. Morbitity and Mortality Weekly Report, 18 December 2009. 3 Neurotypical Syndrome. Accessed from http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Neurotypical_syndrome on December 8, 2011.