The theory of Monotropism was developed by Dr Dinah Murray, Wenn Lawson and Mike Lesser (2005) in their article, Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism. They stated "At any one moment the amount of attention available to a conscious individual is limited.... The authors suggest competition between mental processes for scarce attention is an important factor in the shaping of the cognitive process.”(Murray et al., 2005).
Monotropism is increasingly considered to be the underlying principle behind autism and is becoming more widely recognised especially within autistic and neurodivergent communities. Fergus Murray, in their article Me and Monotropism: A unified theory (2018), describes monotropism as a 'pull'. Murray describes montropism as 'resting on a model of the mind as an interest system’: we are all interested in many things, and our interests help direct our attention. Different interests are salient at different times. In a monotropic mind, fewer interests tend to be aroused at any time, and they attract more of our processing resources, making it harder to deal with things outside of our current attention tunnel'.
My experience of being monotropic feels like having a channel of energy that flows through the whole body mind, it is completely consuming. It feels like there is a force within monotropism that draws me into specific channels of thinking and enables me to hyperfocus, it can lead to high levels of engagement and motivation.
Monotropism can create a happy 'flow state'; a monotropic way of thinking and processing can sweep you along; much like a river, it has momentum and can have a deep intense current. It can be a wonderful experience of escapism and regulation. Engaging in monotropic flow states is like entering a happy state of mind, where you may become so hyper-focused that nothing else matters or is even noticed around you.
Monotropism is a good way of conceptualising how autistic special interests can support better mental health. By embracing the theory of monotropism, I feel we can gain an understanding of how flow states may help to recharge and regulate the sensory system. Embracing a natural state of monotropic flow can help to enable positive mental health, work and also learning outcomes for autistic people.
However, I also feel an understanding of monotropism could support a better understanding of the mental health difficulties that some autistic people may experience. When in a flow state it can be hard to shift attention channels to engage in different tasks, which may make daily life quite challenging. It is hard to pull out of / or switch channels of attention that are so consuming. As much as monotropism can create a happy flow state, I feel it can also lead to darker, negative flow states and be exhausting to manage.
I firmly believe that a deeper understanding of monotropism may help reduce the impact of autistic burnout and could improve the mental health outcomes for autistic people. Research has slowly been emerging over the last few years, but this area still needs far more research.
I am happy to support any projects about monotropism / autistic burnout if time and my personal / family commitments allow.
Please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign Posting and Further Reading about Monotropism
Research and Blogs
Original article by Murray, Lesser & Lawson (2005), Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism
Murray, D., Lesser, M, & Lawson, W. (2005). Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism. Autism, 9(2), 139–156.
A great accessible article that clearly explains the theory of monotropism by Fergus Murray (2018)
My article about monotropism written for The PDA Space blog (2023), my next blog will explore how monotropism may also affect autistic burnout and impact on mental health in less positive ways.
Blog about autism and monotropism and flow states by Ferrous / Oolong / Fergus Murray
David Gray-Hammond's website about 'Neuroqueerness, Autistic, and Neurodivergent Experience'. Guest writer Tanya Adkin has also written several articles about monotropism, AuDHD and developed a theory about 'monotropic split' which is shared on this website.
Comprehensive website set up by Fergus Murray. Read about explanations and applications of monotropism theory, its history, and what’s happening now.
An amazing website to dive into that draws together writing and ideas from across the world about neurodivergence, they also have a wonderful blog series and the most comprehensive up to date glossary about everything to do with neurodiversity / disability and neurodivergence I have found.
A cartoon about monotropism by SaltForMySquid that may be good for young people.
An EPIC new website created by autistic young people for autistic young people. Fully accessible, autism affirming with amazing signposting through out. Created by the fabulous Spectrum Gaming Team.
Kieran Rose (The Autistic Advocate) has a great series of YouTube videos to support his website and training about autism. This is a great video clearly explaining monotropism.
Studio III Atlass - A wonderful video with Damian Milton discussing monotropism and flow states
Great video about monotropism from Aucademy an amazing autistic led educative platform
'Broadcaster, John Offord chats to Dr Dinah Murray, an independent researcher with a background in linguistics, anthropology and philosophy and her son Fergus Murray, a science teacher, writer and 'autist' about Monotropism, a cognitive strategy posited to be the central underlying feature of autism.'
The Different Minds podcast series • A podcast on Spotify for Podcasters
BBC podcast with Dr Wenn Lawson and Jamie Knight 'Monotropism Changed my Life'
The Passionate Mind by Wendy Lawson (2010)
What I want to talk about by Pete Wharmby (2022)
Untypical by Pete Wharmby (2023)
Untypical: How the World Isn’t Built for Autistic People and What We Should All Do About it by Pete Wharmby | Goodreads
Inclusive Education for Autistic Children by Rebecca Wood (2019)
More Coming Soon!