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Monotropic Interests and Looping Thoughts

Updated: Jan 14





The theory of monotropism was developed by Murray, Lawson and Lesser in their article, Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism (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 montropism as, 'resting on a model of the mind as an interest system'. They continue by saying; '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'. Find out your monotropism score here by taking the Monotropism Questionnaire designed by Garau et al., (2023).




Monotropic Pull​

Autistic /ADHD / AuDHD people are more likely to be monotropic (Garau et al., 2023). If you are monotropic, your attention may be pulled very strongly towards a specific focus, interest or sensory experience. This may mean things outside that attention tunnel get missed whilst the majority of your attention is directed towards something specific.


Monotropic interests are often very intense and can be completely consuming. It may feel like you are deep diving; being hyper-focused may use all (or the majority) of your energy and attention resources affecting your mind and body.


Some interests may be fleeting but still very intense. For example, sensory experiences whilst out on a walk; a person may become completely engaged and immersed by a moment of beauty as they see shimmery light reflections on the waves in the sea. Other people who are not monotropic may notice this and think it is beautiful but may not get the same pull towards it. The ripple effects of that experience may last longer and be deeper if you are monotropic. Other monotropic interests may take up more time and last weeks, years, or a lifetime. Interests may include certain types of sensory play themes, such as having a strong interest in spinning things, or in topics such as cats, Tudor history, or perhaps something specifically related to your field of work.

Some people may have several strong interests at any one time and dip in and out of them through the day or over a much more extended period. There is a fluidity to monotropism, and having deep interests is not rigid or restrictive; it can lead to rich and meaningful experiences and outcomes and create a really happy flow state.


A monotropic interest is something more than a hobby, it is something that you dive into and may find energising and rejuvenating, having strong interests can benefit well being. It gives you a chance to rest, recover and re-energise in a way that suppprts your unique neurology and monotropic way of being. Yet due to the all-consuming nature of being monotropic, it can also make day-to-day life difficult to manage, affect your sensory system, executive functioning, and impact your well-being and mental health. Different aspects of Monotropism and Well-Being were also discussed in more detail at this year's Scottish Autism Research Group Meeting by Fergus Murray which is available on their Monotropism website. What makes my personal monotropic interests different from other more general interests is the intensity of the "pull". There is a constant drive and urge to return to my interest. I know when I'm engaged I can enter a flow state which helps me feel more regulated and it can also be relaxing and rejuvenating. For me, a monotropic interest is not just a phase, it is a way of helping balance and manage the sensory system and can help maintain and improve well-being. My monotropic interests have helped me recover through autistic burnout and enabled me to restore some energy and feel less stuck.

Looping Thoughts


Focusing your attention on something positive can be a wonderful, JOYFUL experience and enable great creativity, happy, immersive, meaningful play experiences for children, and great work and learning outcomes for others. This was reflected in my Summer 2023 Monotropism Project by the words people used to describe their experience as a monotropic person such as:




However if you are monotropic and focused on something negative, having such an all consuming hyper focused way of thinking can be debilitating. It may feel like some of your thoughts are actually stuck. It may affect your body as well as your mind and leave you physically feeling almost paralysed in one place and unable to move on with your day (this may also tie into the concept of autistic inertia). It can lead to what may feel like never-ending 'loops of concern'. Sonny Hallett has a great short self-help guide to tackling rumination for autistic people here which may be helpful if this affects you: Loops of Concern.


It can be very hard to move on and shift attention tunnels when you are consumed by looping thoughts, whether they are positive or negative. Switching tasks and moving from one attention tunnel to another can be challenging, use a lot of energy and be completely exhausting.

Attention Tunnels

Thinking about your day as series of "flowy attention tunnels" and planning your day around attention tunnels, as described by Jamie+Lion (Spaced Out and Smiling), can be really helpful to keep a flow state going and help manage your day more smoothly. Jamie+Lion have a great blog about 'Applying Monotropism', which describes this idea in more detail.


I have some downloadable e-books about supporting monotropic young people to help navigate attention tunnels and manage transitions through the day at school and home. I also have some FREE download E-Books about monotropism on my website.




There is still a lot to explore and learn about how people experience monotropism in different ways. Learning more about your identity and ways your mind, body and sensory system work can help support well-being. If you relate to monotropism, learning about this theory could also help reduce autistic burnout as you may discover ways to help you manage your attention so you are more aware of your energy resources and needs. You can find out more about monotropism in some of the links below.





Further Reading:


Monotropism Questionnaire research by Garau et al. 2023: www.osf.io/wpx5g/#! (preprint)

Sonny Hallett has a great short self-help guide to tackling rumination for autistic people here: www.medium.com/@sonnyhallett/loops-of-concern-ff792eebad03


Jamie+Lion (Spaced Out and Smiling) blog about flowy attention tunnels and applying monotropism in your daily life: www.spacedoutandsmiling.com/blog/2022-08-30-applying-monotropism Fergus Murray: Monotropism and Well-Being SARG Talk 2023


Monotropism Website: www.monotropism.org 


More about monotropism on my website here: www.autisticrealms.com/monotropism Emerging and evolving thoughts about rumination, autism, monotropism and OCD on my website here: Monotropism, Autism & OCD (autisticrealms.com)

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