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Monotropism and The Monotropism Questionnaire




This article was originally written for and published by Neurodiverse Connection (Aug 2023)







What is monotropism?

The theory of monotropism was developed by Murray, Lawson and Lesser (2005) in their article, Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism. Monotropic people focus more attention and energy resources on a more limited number of channels of interest than non-monotropic (polytropic) people, who may be able to attend to a broader range of channels and find it easier to switch between channels of interest and tasks.

In their article ‘Me and Monotropism: A unified theory’ (2018), Murray describes monotropism as a 'pull'. Murray writes of montropism as:

'Resting on a model of the mind as an interest system…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'.

Many other research studies have recently examined the importance of special interests for autistic people. The study by Turner-Brown et al., 2011 showed that 75% to 95% of autistic people report having special interests. Monotropism also fits into the theory of autistic and ADHD hyperfocus, as described by Abu-Akel (2021) and Grotewiel et al., (2022). Monotropism could also explain why autistic students find a busy curriculum with lots of change and shifting of attention channels through the day more difficult to manage (Wood, 2021).

Monotropic people are able to hyper-focus and deep dive into their special interests and enter what has been described as a flow state. This can be highly productive in a work or learning environment and for children in a play situation. Flow states are thought to help the mind and body regulate and recharge the sensory system. Further research into monotropism could help to develop a new understanding of many autistic experiences that had previously only been viewed through a deficit lens and could support better mental health.

The Monotropism Questionnaire

'Development and Validation of a Novel Self-Report Measure of Monotropism in Autistic and Non-Autistic People: The Monotropism Questionnaire' by Garau et al., was published as a pre-print June 2023. The response to the Monotropism Questionnaire (MQ) has been overwhelmingly positive across various social media platforms. Dr Joey’s (nd_psych) post on TikTok gained over 2.7 Million views in less than two weeks.

The Research

  • The MQ consists of 47 items, which a group of autistic adults generated based on their lived experience and academic expertise.

  • 1,110 participants (756 autistic, 354 non-autistic) completed the MQ.

  • MQ scores are significantly higher for autistic participants compared to non-autistic participants.

  • ADHD and autism were both significantly associated with higher mean monotropism scores.

Eight factors came out of the data analysis. These elements could be considered to contribute to monotropic thought patterns.

1.  Managing social situations     2.      Rumination and anxiety

3.      Struggle with decision making

4.      Anxiety-reducing effect of special interests

5.      Need for routines

6.      Special interests

7.      Losing track of other factors when focusing on special interests

8.      Environmental impact on the attention tunnel

You can take the monotropism questionnaire here: MQ Assessment. The MQ is opening up conversations as people reflect upon their experiences and discuss what monotropism means to them. The MQ has been shared by some people as a ‘new autism assessment’ despite the MQ researchers clearly stating that this is specifically a questionnaire to reflect monotropism. A great video clearly explaining the MQ presented by Fergus Murray is available here.  The amazingly positive response to the MQ reflects the appetite for a non-pathologizing neurodiversity-affirming autism assessment and the desire to move away from the current medical deficit model of autism. It reflects the importance of autistic researchers (and otherwise neurodivergent people) being involved in future research.

What Next?

Monotropism is a way of conceptualising how autistic minds work and how this may affect the sensory system and body-mind responses. If you are monotropic, changing channels of attention can be exhausting and uses considerable energy, impacting physical and mental health. Further research could help people develop strategies to manage their day-to-day life better and help support executive functioning skills. Allowing time and space in supportive environments for autistic / ADHD people to engage in their special interests could support educational outcomes and be beneficial in helping to understand and reduce autistic burnout. Most importantly, I feel the MQ is helping to validate people's inner autistic and ADHD experiences. It is creating excitement within the community and opening up discussions. The Monotropism Questionnaire is an excellent non-pathologizing next step towards a greater understanding of autism and ADHD and the impact of monotropism in people’s day-to-day lives. The potential outcomes from this initial research will be a valuable stepping stone to providing better support for autistic / ADHD people and helping to improve education, health, social care, and mental health outcomes. For more information about monotropism, please look here: Monotropism .




References

Ashinoff, B. K & Abu-Akel, A. (2021) Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention. Psychological Research, 85, 1–19 https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8

Garau, V., Murray, A. L., Woods, R., Chown, N., Hallett, S., Murray, F., Wood, R. & Fletcher-Watson, S. (2023), Development and Validation of a Novel Self-Report Measure of Monotropism in Autistic and Non-Autistic People: The Monotropism Questionnaire, [Pre-print], https://osf.io/ft73y/

Grotewiel, M.M., Crenshaw, M.E., Dorsey, A. & Street, E. (2023), Experiences of hyperfocus and flow in college students with and without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Current Psychology, 42, 13265–13275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-02539-0

Murray, F. (2018), Me and Monotropism: A unified theory, The British Psychological Society, 30th November 2018. https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/me-and-monotropism-unified-theory-autism

Murray, D., Lesser, L. & Lawson, L. (2005) ‘Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism’. Autism, 9(2), 123-220. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361305051398


Turner-Brown, L. M., Lam, K. S., Holtzclaw, T. N., Dichter, G. S. & Bodfish, J. W. (2011), Phenomenology and measurement of circumscribed interests in autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 15(4), 437–456. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361310386507


Wood, R. (2021), Autism, intense interests and support in school: from wasted efforts to shared understandings, Educational Review, 73(1), 34-54, https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2019.1566213





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