Monotropism provides a far more comprehensive explanation for autistic cognition than any of its competitors, so it has been good to see it finally starting to get more recognition among psychologists (as in Sue Fletcher-Watson’s keynote talk at the 2018 Autistica conference). In a nutshell, monotropism is the tendency for our interests to pull us in more strongly than most people. It rests 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.Me and Monotropism: A unified theory of autism | The Psychologist
If we are right, then monotropism is one of the key ideas required for making sense of autism, along with the double empathy problem and neurodiversity. Monotropism makes sense of many autistic experiences at the individual level. The double empathy problem explains the misunderstandings that occur between people who process the world differently, often mistaken for a lack of empathy on the autistic side. Neurodiversity describes the place of autistic people and other ‘neurominorities’ in society.Monotropism – Welcome
Monotropism: Attention and Interest
Autism, intense interests and support in school: from wasted efforts to shared understandings: Educational Review: Vol 73, No 1
Autistic children and adults are often described as ‘obsessive’ or as having ‘narrow’, ‘restricted’ or ‘circumscribed’ interests. And when this trait is associated with being ‘fixated’ or very repetitive, it’s generally considered to be highly undesirable, and some behaviour interventions actively set out to diminish or even ‘extinguish’ these ‘fixations’.
In fact, autistic academics such as Dr Wenn Lawson and Dr Dinah Murray have been writing and speaking about this for over two decades, with Dr Damian Milton, Fergus Murray and others also making important contributions over recent years. Framed by these writers as ‘monotropism’ – a tendency to focus on certain issues or activities in depth to the exclusion of other inputs – this fundamental autistic trait is presented much more positively here, although, importantly, the drawbacks are not ignored.Autistic children and intense interests: the key to their educational inclusion?
The true power of any theory comes largely from its applications. Many people have put #Monotropism to good use at school, at play, in the workplace and in mental health – making sense of autistic experiences, and finding strategies for working with them.@MxOolong
Becky Wood found that monotropism offered a valuable lens for understanding and working with the intense interests of autistic students, and that respecting these passions could do a tremendous amount to advance their educational inclusion.@MxOolong
Most weeks now, there’s new research published talking about autism in terms of monotropism: a tendency to concentrate attention, and have relatively few interests aroused at a time. A lot of autistic people feel this explains our experience better than any other theory.@MxOolong
I wanted to track some recent work on monotropism here, largely but not exclusively in academic journals.
Her conclusion was that Monotropism Theory explained substantially more of the experiences reported than any of the other theories she looked at. I’m still not sure it doesn’t *also* explain every experience that Executive Functioning Theory explains, but this is promising work!@MxOolong
So how do autistic children learn? Well, a key concept, promoted mainly by autistic scholars, is ‘monotropism’, which is described as a tendency to focus on a single issue or activity, in depth, to the exclusion of all others (Lawson 2011; Murray, Lesser and Lawson 2005). A person who is monotropic in their thinking style might have a relatively small number of areas of interest, but they are experienced in a very deep and compelling way (Milton 2012b). Indeed, although monotropism can result in a difficulty in shifting attention from the area to interest to another (Murray et al. 2005), it appears to be a more positive way of describing autistic cognition, setting aside pejorative terms such as ‘fixated’ or ‘obsessive’, for example (Wood 2019). This cognitive disposition can be compared with ‘polytropism’, which denotes a tendency to attend to a number of activities or issues (sometimes called ‘multi-tasking’), but these are inevitably explored in less depth and with little sense of urgent preoccupation (Murray 2014).
Many school staff, and some of the parents, felt that autistic people are inherently ‘obsessive’ or set in their ways, showing that when a monotropic thinking style collides with an inflexible education system (Glashan et al. 2004), difficulties arise. And so, if an autistic child has strong interests in certain areas, and these don’t fit in with the school curriculum, it will be very hard work for school staff to try to persuade them to focus on something else, as well as potentially distressing for the children if they are simply unable to shift their attention.
However, some have argued that a monotropic thinking style should not only be accommodated, but also embraced and even celebrated. Lawson (2011, p.41), for example, posited that autism should be thought of ‘as a cognitive difference or style’, and presented the theory of Single Attention and Associated Cognition in Autism (SAACA). Lawson (2011) argues that autistic cognition simply operates differently from non-autistic intelligence, and that current educational systems fail to accommodate this difference. In addition, this intense concentration has been associated with a deep sense of well-being, or ‘flow states’ (McDonnell and Milton 2014; Wood and Milton 2018). So, given that specialising is currently only considered desirable at the later stages of education, let us now consider how we can harness the monotropic thinking style of autistic children in our school system in order to facilitate their inclusion.Inclusive Education for Autistic Children (pp. 96-99)
The biggest practical thing to take away from this is the importance of meeting the child, or adult, where they are. This is not an insight unique to the monotropism perspective, but nothing else I’ve seen demonstrates with such clarity why it’s so crucial. Treat interests as something to work with. Recognise what someone’s passionate about and learn how to become part of the attention tunnels which come with monotropic focus, rather than trying to just reach in and pull the person out of the flow states that are so important to us. Never pathologise ‘special interests’, and don’t assume that autistic interests are ‘restricted’ – there are plenty of ways to get us interested in new things, it’s just that they mostly involve taking existing interests and building on them.Me and Monotropism: A unified theory of autism | The Psychologist
In Monotropism theory it is proposed that there exists a limited amount of attention available to anyone at any given time that may either be broadly distributed over many interests or concentrated on a few interests, and that differences, in the spread of attention available to individuals, follow a normal distribution pattern across the entire human population (Murray et al., 2005). Seen in this way ‘Monotropism is not a model of autism as such…[but]…a theory about human beings, in which autism has a natural role’ (Lesser, cited in Burne, 2005). Thus, according to Monotropism theory, the difference, between autistic and non-autistic, is in the strategies employed in the distribution of scarce attention, i.e. ‘it is the difference between having few interests highly aroused, the monotropic tendency [autistic], and having many interests less highly aroused, the polytropic tendency [non-autistic]’ (Murray et al., 2005, p.140). Monotropism theory therefore meets the ‘unique’ to autism criteria for ‘good’ theory proposed by Rajendran and Mitchell (2007, p.224).
Unlike many theories, which appear (to me) to offer no practical real-life benefit to the autistic community, Monotropism theory is used to propose a heuristic guide to facilitate positive engagement with autistic individuals (ibid, p.153). In addition, distinct from all other cognitive theories, Monotropism theory places value on the input of autistic voices (Milton, 2012). The original article, (Murray et al., 2005), is rich with descriptive accounts of autistic experiences, for which theoretical explanations, of the cognitive mechanisms at work, are proposed.
In my opinion, including an explanation of the sensory differences experienced by autistic individuals is essential if the non-autistic population are going to be enabled to achieve a comprehensive understanding of autism and be better able to identify and offer appropriate forms of support. This view is supported by Chown and Beardon (2017) who suggest that ‘good’ autism theory must ‘be capable of explaining the cognitive and sensory differences’ (p.7). In Monotropism theory, it is suggested that, with monotropic hyper-focus comes a general lack of awareness of one’s environment and thus a hypo-sensitivity to sensory stimuli outside the attention tunnel, because large areas of potential information are not registered (Murray et al., 2005). This, coupled with a lack of preparedness for interruption, results in hyper-sensitivity to unexpected sensory stimuli. As an autistic individual who experiences both hyper and hypo-sensitivity to noise, particularly when task- focused, this explanation seems highly plausible to me.Understanding how autistic pupils experience secondary school: autism criteria, theory and FAMe
We’re back to monotropism again, because attention is not only about being in cognitive love; attention can be focused on anything. It’s whatever you are doing in a particular moment that engages you. When you are monotropic you lock onto that thing. Your senses are engaged with that thing. You must build up energy to get into it and once you are there you enter what is called a ‘flow state’, where everything in your body is flowing towards the task in hand (McDonnell and Milton 2014). So, any deviation, any pull away from that flow, is difficult to deal with.
I needed forward-planning, clear and direct communication, consistency, more autonomy and trust that I knew what I was doing. But most importantly I needed to be validated and seen for who I was: to be seen through a lens of strengths.Learning From Autistic Teachers (p. 65)
The term monotropic describes single attention and single channels for accessing and processing information (mono: single; tropism: direction/channel). NT developing individuals, although able to be single-minded at times, can respond to another interest or situation and shift their attention whether interested or not. This means they can use polytropic attention, which necessitates dividing their attention between a number of differing concerns simultaneously (poly: many) and accommodating many channels of information at any one time. Polytropism in typical individuals is argued to be their default learning style. This concept will be explored in more detail in this chapter.
I know that for many of us, shifting attention from an aspect of interest to one that we are not interested or invested in is very difficult. However, in AS this is often the reason we prefer sameness and routine, and why we may even appear to have one sense that dominates another. I suggest we use single attention connecting with and processing information one step at a time, which is the monotropic disposition, as our default setting. Therefore, attention and the interest system will work hand in hand to create an attention, interest, sensory-motor loop leading to a cognitive style.
Monotropism, or having the ability to home in on one aspect of communication or on one interest at one time, can happen to NT and AS individuals. However, rigid monotropism often occurs in an AS individual’s world, and we are said to have ‘tunnel vision’ (Attwood 2007) or, as parents often say, ‘my child seems only to be interested in his or her interests’. Monotropism will mean, for most of us, difficulties coping with change because we are single-minded. For many, this is demonstrated in our difficulties with change in routine, expectation, instruction, daily schedule, movement of attention or incorporating another set of demands into the present scenario. For example, coping with change can involve listening and then being required to participate in decision making without due time to process information; thus, being forced to move from one channel to another (Kluth and Chandler-Olcott 2008).
For many of us the discomfort at encountering change is one consequence of being attention-tunnelled or monotropic (e.g. Bogdashina 2006; Greenaway and Plaisted 2005; Murray et al. 2005).The Passionate Mind: How People with Autism Learn
SAACA suggests that most AS individuals are monotropic and that the monotropic disposition informs AS cognition and subsequent learning styles. This implies only being able to focus on one thing at one time, as long as it’s within our interest system. The implication of having a monotropic disposition is that generalising one’s experience and understanding is difficult. This could also have an impact upon the understanding of time because time might not be noted as a concept but rather only as a hindrance to being able to stay focused upon the thing that is holding our attention.The Passionate Mind: How People with Autism Learn
This is why the ideas associated with traditional theories of AS are being questioned in this book and the newly developed theory of AS concerning the concepts associated with the use of single attention and associated cognition in autism (SAACA) are suggested. SAACA is argued to be responsible for the pattern of characteristics seen in AS and experienced by us as the AS population. SAACA, which was developed from the idea of monotropism, explains the autistic learning style unlike any other. Current traditional theories of AS have too many gaps and fail to accommodate the clinical picture seen in AS. Within this new approach a particular learning style is said to be responsible for the current criteria for an AS assessment and the AS individual’s experience.
SAACA suggests the autism spectrum should be considered not as a terrible tragedy that needs to be cured or redeemed, but as an important learning style. As we will see in later chapters SAACA provides ways to accommodate, work with and develop an individual’s fullest potential.The Passionate Mind: How People with Autism Learn
Without interest, Dewey stated, attention and connections to learning not only are less available, but individuals lack the needed perceptions to stay motivated, and their needs, as well as their relationships and values, cannot develop to their fullest potential.The Passionate Mind: How People with Autism Learn
The most important discovery I have made is that attention and its partner, interest, operate differently according to the type of brain one has. By ‘type’ of brain I mean whether you are AS or NT. Murray’s work on monotropism (tightly focused interest) and polytropism (diffused interests) (Murray 1986, 1992, 1995, 1996) is foundational to this thinking.The Passionate Mind: How People with Autism Learn
Whilst if you are monotropic and autistically developing, such as I am, you will be good at either thinking, or feeling, or noticing, but in serial fashion, one at a time. I can multi-task, but only if I have available attention, am interested and have energy resources within my interest tunnel. This suggests that attention and interest are partnered differently according to whether you are NT or not.The Passionate Mind: How People with Autism Learn
Flow States and Attention Tunnels
Flow states are the pinnacle of intrinsic motivation, where somebody wants to do something for themselves, for the sake of doing it and doing it well.Craft, Flow and Cognitive Styles
When focused like this an Autistic person can enter a ‘flow state‘ which can bring great joy and satisfaction to the person experiencing it.
However it can make switching between tasks and other transitions difficult.Monotropism
If you imagine that an autistic kid at school is likely to be wrenched out of their attention tunnel multiple times every day, each time leading to disorientation and deep discomfort, you are on your way to understanding why school environments can be so stressful for many autistic students. If you can avoid contributing to that, you may find that you have an easier time with your autistic students: try entering into their attention tunnel when you can, rather than tugging them out of it. Parallel play is one powerful tool for this; start where the child is, show interest in what they’re focused on. If you do need to pull them out of whatever they’re focusing on, it’s best to give them a bit of time.Craft, Flow and Cognitive Styles
If an autistic person is pulled out of monotropic flow too quickly, it causes our sensory systems to disregulate.
This in turn triggers us into emotional dysregulation, and we quickly find ourselves in a state ranging from uncomfortable, to grumpy, to angry, or even triggered into a meltdown or a shutdown.
This reaction is also often classed as challenging behavior when really it is an expression of distress caused by the behavior of those around us.
How you can get things wrong:
An introduction to monotropism – YouTube
- Not preparing for transition
- Too many instructions
- Speaking too quickly
- Not allowing processing time
- Using demanding language
- Using rewards or punishments
- Poor sensory environments
- Poor communication environments
- Making assumptions
- A lack of insightful and informed staff reflection
The first part is in my “native language,” and then the second part provides a translation, or at least an explanation.
But my language is not about designing words or even visual symbols for people to interpret. It is about being in a constant conversation with every aspect of my environment. Reacting physically to all parts of my surroundings.In My Language
Many people with autism are stressed individuals who find the world a confusing place (Vermeulen, 2013). So how does someone with autism achieve a sense of flow? McDonnell & Milton (2014) have argued that many repetitive activities may achieve a flow state. One obvious area where flow can be achieved is when engaging in special interests. Special interests allow people to become absorbed in an area that gives them specialist knowledge and a sense of achievement. In addition, certain repetitive tasks can help people achieve a flow like state of mind. These tasks can become absorbing and are an important part of people’s lives. The next time you see an individual with autism engaging in a repetitive task (like stacking Lego or playing a computer game), remember that these are not in themselves negative activities, they may well be reducing stress.
If you want to improve your supports to people with autism from a stress perspective, a useful tool is to identify flow states for that person and try to develop a flow plan. Remember, the next time you see a person repeating seemingly meaningless behaviours, do not assume that this is always unpleasant for them – it might be a flow state, and beneficial for reducing stress.What is ‘flow’?
Flow state is a term coined by Csikszentmihalyi to describe “the experience of complete absorption in the present moment” (Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi, 2009). It is widely viewed as highly positive and many texts advise readers on how to attain it when performing tasks. Autistic people are sometimes puzzled that flow seems to be regarded as somewhat elusive and difficult to experience, since the common autistic experience of complete engagement with an interest fits the definition of flow well. Thus, it is not hard to find accounts of autistic detailed listening that seem to describe a flow state:
“When I work on my musical projects, I tend to hear the whole score in my head and piece every instrument loop detail where they fit. It relaxes me and makes me extremely aware of what I’m doing to the point that I lose track of time.”Autistic listening
What Is The Flow?
Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
I think process is something that we shouldn’t try to hack our way out of. Because it’s beautiful.Free Your Fingers, Free Your Mind: A performative presentation with DiViNCi | Loop
Time flows differently when children work together, the older becoming aspirational peers for younger children, no bells demanding that they stop what they are doing to move in short blocks of time from math to reading to science to history in a repetitive daily cycle. Instead, they work on projects that engage them in experiences across content areas and extend time as they see the need.Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools
Here’s an hour-long presentation and discussion on @DjzemaLouiz‘s work. She explores the #DoubleEmpathy Problem first framed by @milton_damian in some depth with the help of monotropism and the power of the intensity of autistic interests.@MxOolong
In flow states, time dilates.
SpIns and Infodumps
I don’t know who invented the phrase “special interest.” Probably some researcher. Autistic people don’t really love the term because the term “special” has become tied so closely with terms like “special needs,” which we resent.
Nevertheless, somewhere down the line “special interest,” commonly shortened to SpIn (“spin”), became the term for the characteristically-autistic tendency to develop an obsession with something specific and often obscure.
Some special interests are short lived, and some last the lifetime of the person; but, however long they last, they are intense, delightful, and a vital part of autistic culture.
So integral are special interests to autistic culture that autistic people will post about feeling depressed and unmotivated because they don’t have an active SpIn at the moment.
It is also quite acceptable in autistic culture to “infodump” on a topic whenever it happens to come up. To autists (an insider short-hand for autistic people), the sharing of knowledge and information is always welcome.7 Cool Aspects of Autistic Culture » NeuroClastic
One almost universal trait of autism is what is known as the ‘special interest’ or ‘hyperfixation’, as I prefer to call it. When in the process of diagnosis, autistic people might be asked about topics, hobbies or interests that are particularly important to them, that are a refuge when feelings of stress are high, or all-consuming. As far as the autistic community is concerned, I believe that having hyperfixations is entirely normal and healthy, and many autistic people celebrate their interests and take pleasure in the fact they have these hobbies that mean so much to them, proud of the knowledge and understanding they have of these varied topics. These hyperfixations can be on any subject imaginable; the stereotype, of course, is trains and locomotives, with Pokémon and video games generally bringing up the rear. However, this is mostly a relic of the extremely male-centric world of autism research and discussion that dates back to the twentieth century, and is not very useful now, when we are increasingly aware of the huge diversity within the autistic community.Learning From Autistic Teachers (pp. 30-31)
The reality is that if it exists, you can reasonably assume there will be an autistic person to whom that thing is the subject of intense obsession and time spent, from blankets to drain covers (both of these are special interests of people in my acquaintance) and pretty much anything in between. When engaging in a special interest, autistic people are typically calmer, more relaxed, happier and more focused than they would otherwise be – for many, it is a form of release or even self-medication: a well-timed foray into a special interest can stave off meltdown and be a generally extremely positive force in an autistic person’s life.Learning From Autistic Teachers (pp. 30-31)
Official autism criteria say that “special interests” are defined by either intensity or unusualness; what this doesn’t capture though is the way of interacting with them, which is mainly through accumulating information in order to dissect and understand, categorise and explore.@fochti
Listening to the monotropic people in your life infodump about their SpIns is a love language.
Is there something you’re not telling me You’re not telling me what floats your boat It can be anything you want it to be Only you can decide what floats your boat
Let me tell you what floats my boat It’s writing songs that change the world Maybe just a little bit I said just a little bit Can you please tell me what floats your boat That’s all I want to know Is there something you’re not telling me It’s up to you Maybe I can help you float your boat We’ll write a song to sing along And let it float away let it float away Anything can float your boat That’s all I want you to tell me So everyone can see --Floats Boat by Josephmooon
Stimpunk Ronan is lyricist for Josephmooon, a distributed, multi-age, neurodiverse band. Floats Boat is about special interests and inviting others to infodump.
Embrace the “Obsession”
Lovingly dubbed “meerkat mode” by Tanya due to the heightened state of vigilance and arousal it presents, it involves constantly looking for danger and threat. It is more than hyper-arousal, Tanya believes that it is actually an overwhelmed monotropic person desperately looking for a hook into a monotropic flow-state.
This is not just sensory hyper-arousal, it is the tendency of monotropic [AuDHD] minds to seek out a natural and consuming flow-state to aid recovery from burnout and/or monotropic split. Because of the heightened sensory-arousal and adrenal response that comes with it, monotropic flow becomes difficult to access, leading into monotropic spiral.”Adkin & Gray-Hammond (2023)
What is meerkat mode?
What is meerkat mode and how does it relate to AuDHD? – Emergent Divergence
- Seeking a monotropic flow-state (Hyperfocus)
- Increased Sensory Dysregulation
- May be unable to stop or rest
What atypical burnout can look like is being stuck in a hyper-aroused state, Tanya often affectionately dubs this as “meerkat-mode”, she describes a meerkat-type nervousness, constantly on the look out for danger, unable to focus and self-regulate creating the need for constant co-regulation with another person, and a fear of being left alone. This is sometimes misinterpreted as attachment disorder because of the childs perceived over-attachment to a parent or safe person. We often see this type of response from children and young people in traumatic school environments for extended periods of time.Creating Autistic Suffering: What is Atypical Burnout? – Emergent Divergence
Lovingly dubbed “meerkat mode” by Tanya due to the heightened state of vigilance and arousal it presents, it involves constantly looking for danger and threat. It is more than hyper-arousal, Tanya believes that it is actually an overwhelmed monotropic person desperately looking for a hook into a monotropic flow-state.This is not just sensory hyper-arousal, it is the tendency of monotropic minds to seek out a natural and consuming flow-state to aid recovery from burnout and/or monotropic split. Because of the heightened sensory-arousal and adrenal response that comes with it, monotropic flow becomes difficult to access, leading into monotropic spiral.Creating Autistic Suffering: The AuDHD Burnout to Psychosis Cycle- A deeper look – Emergent Divergence
Creating Autistic Suffering: The AuDHD Burnout to Psychosis Cycle- A deeper look – Emergent Divergence
Monotropic split refers to a very specific type of attentional trauma experienced by monotropic people who are regularly exceeding their attentional resources (Adkin, 2022) in an effort to meet the demands of living in a world designed for non-monotropic (polytropic) people. It inevitably leads to burnout.Creating Autistic Suffering: The AuDHD Burnout to Psychosis Cycle- A deeper look – Emergent Divergence
So, what happens when a monotropic mind is forced to live in a polytropic way?
A monotropic individual focuses more detailed attention over fewer attention streams than a polytropic (non-Autistic) individual. When they are forced into environments where they must perform like a polytropic person, the amount of attention to detail they apply to multiple attention streams doesn’t decrease, all that happens is the monotropic mind experiences trauma by being pushed into trying to give more attention than any individual can cognitively give.
I call this monotropic split. The monotropic mind is having to split its attention and give more mental energy and attention than it has available to be able to withstand the environment it is in and remain safe.
When we think of an Autistic person experiencing overwhelm, we are thinking of a monotropic mind taking on more than it can process and creating meltdown or shutdown. Therefore, experiencing monotropic split is the cause of meltdown or shutdown.
When we think of an Autistic person who masks, “copes” and “gets by” which eventually leads to burnout or mental health crisis, we are again thinking of a monotropic mind being forced to perform in a way that traumatises its processing capabilities. This is monotropic split causing trauma, burnout, or mental health crisis.Guest Post: What is monotropic split? – Emergent Divergence
Autistic burnout starts with monotropic split (Adkin, 2022) over a sustained period of time. Burnout recovery can take months or even years, and the recommended course of action is usually to remove as many demands as possible, and recharge through interest-led activities.Creating Autistic Suffering: What is Atypical Burnout? – Emergent Divergence
Think you might be monotropic? Try this “Monotropism Questionnaire”.
|After a period of instability, I need a quiet and predictable environment.|
|I need a quiet and predictable environment for me to switch from one task to another easily.|
|I often struggle to concentrate in busy and/or unpredictable environments.|
|I find sudden unexpected disruptions to my attention startling.|
|It’s distressing to be unexpectedly pulled away from something I’m engaged in.|
|I rarely find simultaneously holding eye contact and making a verbal conversation with another person uncomfortable. *|
|I often notice details that others do not.|
|Involvement in an activity of interest often reduces my anxiety level.|
|I find social interactions more comfortable if communicating about a topic of interest to me.|
|I am often totally focused on activities I am passionate about, to the point I am unaware of other events.|
|I can get quite good at something even if I’m not especially interested in it. *|
|I often lose sense of time when engaging in activities I am passionate about.|
|I sometimes avoid talking because I cannot reliably predict how others will react, especially strangers.|
|I tend to do activities because I find them interesting, instead of due to societal expectations.|
|I rarely find social situations chaotic. *|
|I don’t mind if someone interrupts me when I’m in the middle of an activity. *|
|When I’m working on something, I’m open to helpful suggestions.*|
|I often find it difficult to switch topics after engaging in an activity for a long time.|
|I often engage in activities I am passionate about to escape from anxiety.|
|Routines provide an important source of stability and safety.|
|I manage uncertainty by creating routines.|
|I often experience anxiety over matters I have little certainty over.|
|I find it difficult to engage in a task of no interest to me even if it is important.|
|I often find engaging in stimming (e.g., fidgeting, rocking) to be relaxing.|
|I am usually passionate about a few topics at any one time in my life.|
|I have trouble filtering out sounds when I am not doing something I’m focused on.|
|I usually mean what I say and no more than that.|
|I often engage in lengthy discussions on topics I find interesting even though my conversational partner(s) do not.|
|I sometimes accidentally say something others find offensive/ rude when I am focused on a task.|
|I can sometimes be very distressed by a topic that others think of as trivial.|
|I find it easy to keep up with group discussions where everyone is speaking. *|
|Often when I am focused on activities, I do not notice I am thirsty or hungry.|
|Often when I am focused on activities, I do not notice I need the bathroom.|
|When there is a lot of information to consider, I often struggle to make a decision.|
|Sometimes making a decision is so hard I get physically stuck.|
|I sometimes focus on an incident for a substantial time (days) after the event.|
|I sometimes become highly anxious by focusing on the many possible situations that might occur at a future event.|
|Sometimes when I am focused on an activity, I do not recall all the information I might need to make good decisions.|
|People tell me I get fixated on things.|
|I find a problem I can’t solve distressing and/or hard to put down.|
|I tend to feel quite self-conscious unless I’m deeply absorbed in a task.|
|I often get stuck thinking about all the possibilities that might come out of a decision.|
|When I am interested in something, I tend to be passionate about it.|
|When I am interested in a topic, I like to learn everything I can about that topic.|
|I am still fascinated by many of the things I was interested in when I was much younger.|
|I rarely find myself getting stuck in loops of thought. *|
|I often loop back to previous thoughts.|
Below, we gather context and helpful links about the Monotropism Questionnaire, including an important caveat from the questionnaire’s authors: the questionnaire should not be regarded as an autism assessment.
From the abstract for the questionnaire:
Monotropism seeks to explain autism in terms of attention distribution and interests. Despite having strong subjective validity to autistic people, and potential to explain the overlap between autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it has been little investigated formally. This is in large part due to lack of reliable and valid measures to capture the construct. In this study, we aimed to develop and validate a novel self-report measure, the Monotropism Questionnaire (MQ), in autistic and non-autistic people. The MQ consists of 47 items, which were generated by a group of autistic adults based on their lived experience and academic expertise.OSF Preprints | Development and Validation of a Novel Self-Report Measure of Monotropism in Autistic and Non-Autistic People: The Monotropism Questionnaire
“Monotropism provides a far more comprehensive explanation for autistic cognition than any of its competitors.” Note, however, that this questionnaire is not an autism assessment. Here is a video from one of the authors of the questionnaire clarifying “what it is, where it came from, and what we want to do with it in the future.”
Dr. Joey, a clinical psychologist in Australia, said “I believe this is probably the best assessment of autism” – high praise, but misleading; the MQ is really not an autism assessment as such. The questionnaire is designed to assess a person’s degree of monotropism, and while Monotropism was developed as a theory of autism, it is too early to say whether all autistic people are monotropic, or whether all monotropic people are autistic. It is also not entirely clear how ADHD fits into this picture.Monotropism – Monotropism Questionnaire Online
Here are threads by three of the questionnaire’s authors on why it isn’t an autism assessment.
I love that so many people are getting excited about the Monotropism Questionnaire, but I really wish people would stop calling it an “autism assessment”.
I hope that it can be used to inform future autism assessments, but that’s not what it is and it also needs further testing.@MxOolong
I’m also excited at folks trying out the monotropism questionnaire, but I’m also concerned about it being misconstrued. Essentially we wanted to test the idea that there might be a significant overlap between autistic folks and monotropic experience (and questions around ADHD).@scrappapertiger
Important thread on our recently published (open access) monotropism questionnaire.
In a nutshell: monotropism is super interesting and important…
…but our questionnaire is NOT a new way to classify who is / isn’t autistic.@SueReviews
This brings us back round to Dr Joey Lawrence, a clinical psychologist and TikTok star, calling the MQ “probably the best assessment of autism.”
Is it possible for something that’s not an autism assessment to nevertheless be the best assessment of autism?@MxOolong
We especially highlight this important safe-guarding from a questionnaire co-author.
I’ve been emphasising that the new quiz is NOT an autism assessment not bc I’m making an academic point or bc I’m trying to be overly precise, but because I believe that there can be harm at this stage from using it that way.
Monotropism as a way of being is likely to greatly overlap with being autistic (and our study strongly suggests this), but it may well NOT overlap with everyone who meets the current dx criteria for autism.
It will be great to find out more about the autistic folks who aren’t monotropic, and also if and how our questionnaire is not currently capturing all the ways in which monotropism can look.
So, some autistic people will score very low on this questionnaire, and that doesn’t mean that they’re not autistic.
It’s also very possible that some non-autistic people will score highly for monotropism. Again, it’ll be great to find out more about that population.
The questionnaire is also in its first iteration, so accounting for anxiety, other types of weighting, question design, all still need work in future.
Yes, I believe there are huge problems with most autism assessments. But I’m wary of the impact of this questionnaire on folks who, for example, are autistic and score low in the MQ, to be told it’s an autism assessment designed by other autistic people.
We don’t need to put more folks through that kind of rejection.
I think it’s incredibly irresponsible to be promoting this questionnaire as an autism assessment, at this stage, in this form.
However, I also believe that more folks learning about their monotropic ways of being can be really valuable, and using The MQ or questions and ideas from it to do that, learn about ourselves, support others, can be great.
I really don’t want to see folks turned off the whole theory of monotropism and how it relates to autism as a result of some poorly framed science communication. You get to think about and explore this for yourself too, and how it might apply to you.Sonny Hallett on Twitter
This questionnaire should not be used to invalidate identity.
That said, we’re happy to see the questionnaire getting attention and encourage our readers to take the questionnaire. Click/tap this button to open an auto-scoring version of the Monotropism Questionnaire.
The questionnaire is getting really encouraging feedback, much of it along the lines of this:
“This feels like it was written by people who understand why the other questionnaires are so hard. This was so much easier for me.”
We share that sentiment.
After you take the questionnaire, head on over to monotropism.org. It’s a wonderful and accessible resource.