Neurotypical opens with the 1996 news story about the disappearance and survival of a young autistic boy lost in the Florida swamps who was found 4 days and 14 miles later unharmed by the perilous environment. “Not even a bug bite!” his tearful mother recalls, reminding herself that living through such a horrific shock helped her to define the most important things for her and her son, Taylor. This story sets the tone for the less dramatic but equally dangerous perils of an autistic person living in a neurotypical world. (The term, neurotypical was coined in the autistic community as a label for people who are not on the autism spectrum.)
Neurotypical then focuses in on the lives of Violet, Nicholas and Paula―three autistic individuals, and their families, each at different stages of life experience.
“Three-year-old Violet, would walk for miles without tiring or ever turning back if we let her,” says her father, Charlie. Through the joys and sorrows of parenting, Vijay and Charlie look for ways to make Violet's life happy and fulfilling, all the while remaining deeply appreciative of the mystery Violet brings into their lives. They, however, wrestle with questions most parents never have to ask: will a diagnosis of autism limit Violetʼs potential; and should they begin going down the road of medication with her or not?
Nicholas, in many ways appears to be a typical teenager, uncommunicative and intent on doing his own thing. Feeling alienated from those around him and frustrated by misunderstandings with his peers, Nicholas still strives to find out how to fit in amongst them. His brother, Dylan, desires a more predictable playmate while his parents, Ted and Laura, accept his idiosyncrasies, yet fear he may never be truly independent.
Paula, who lives with her neurotypical husband, and their son was diagnosed as an adult. Enlightened by this self-awareness, she begins to assess her life through this new lens. For the first time, she finds a community of self-advocates with whom she can relate and find meaning.
Neither the three family portraits nor the states and stages of their lives come to a neat and tidy resting place, but the landscape is definitely hopeful thanks to an open-ended continuum of narratives interspersed throughout the film. Through segmented interviews, seven highly articulate individuals (both on and off the autism spectrum) bring their personal stories, found philosophies, and candid observations to Neurotypical, calling attention to the subject of neurodiversity as an urgent and multi-layered issue within the 21st century civil rights debate.