I came up with “Tendril Theory” when someone in a support group asked for a good way to explain executive functionExecutive functionThe psychological ability to get things done.Autistic Glossary – AMASE Executive Function (n) is a set of cognitive processes that help us self-regulate so we can effectively plan, prioritize,... More, specifically the challenge of being interrupted or having to switch tasks suddenly, to a neurotypicalThe existence of the word neurotypical makes it possible to have conversations about topics like neurotypical privilege. Neurotypical is a word that allows us to talk about members of the... More person. The image and words came to me all at once. It took me a few weeks to sit down and draw it.Tendril Theory – eisforerin
I think the reason this resonates with so many people is that a lot of differentOur friends and allies at Randimals have a saying, What makes us different, makes all the difference in the world.Randimals We agree. Randimals are made up of two different animals... More kinds of brains work in a similar way – not only for autisticAutistic ways of being are human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.If you are wondering whether you are Autistic, spend time amongst Autistic people, online and offline. If... More people, but also people with ADHDADHD or what I prefer to call Kinetic Cognitive Style (KCS) is another good example. (Nick Walker coined this alternative term.) The name ADHD implies that Kinetics like me have... More, and neurotypical introverts. So if this doesn’t describe you, it probably describes someone you know.
Tendril Theory is very relatable to monotropicMonotropism is a theory of autism developed by autistic people, initially by Dinah Murray and Wenn Lawson.Monotropic minds tend to have their attention pulled more strongly towards a smaller number of interests at... More minds that enter attention tunnelsEntering flow states - or attention tunnels - is a necessary coping strategy for many of us.Fergus Murray People need to feel appreciated and safe, to give themselves to an... More and flow statesEntering flow states - or attention tunnels - is a necessary coping strategy for many of us.Fergus Murray People need to feel appreciated and safe, to give themselves to an... More.
When focused like this an Autistic person can enter a ‘flowEntering flow states - or attention tunnels - is a necessary coping strategy for many of us.Fergus Murray People need to feel appreciated and safe, to give themselves to an... More 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
Many people with autismAutistic ways of being are human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.If you are wondering whether you are Autistic, spend time amongst Autistic people, online and offline. If... More 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 interestsI 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... More. 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 playingThere is nothing more human than play. Humans were designed to learn in play. In fact, nearly all mammals evolved this way.Play's Power At our learning space, we provide learners fresh... More 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’?
We need flow states. Don’t tug us out of flow states. Don’t cut our tendrils.
Entering flow states – or attention tunnels – is a necessary coping strategy for many of us.
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 playWe enjoy parallel play and shared activities that don’t require continual conversation. When we talk, it gets deep quickly. We discuss what’s real, our struggles, fears, desires, obsessions. We appreciate... More 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
Monotropic minds need cavesFuturist David Thornburg identifies three archetypal learning spaces— the campfire, cave, and watering hole—that schools can use as physical spaces and virtual spaces for student and adult learning (bit.ly/YvRuWC)Australia’s Campfires,... More, deep spaces for deep work where interruptions don’t rip out the tendrils of high memory state work.
One of the more interesting ideas emerging from attention capital theory is the surprising role environment can playThere is nothing more human than play. Humans were designed to learn in play. In fact, nearly all mammals evolved this way.Play's Power At our learning space, we provide learners fresh... More in supporting elite cognitive performance.
Professional writers seem to be at the cutting edgeFor me this space of radical openness is a margin a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a “safe” place. One is always at... More of this experimentation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, we start to see more serious attention paid to constructing seriously deep spaces as our economy shifts towards increasingly demanding knowledge work.Simon Winchester’s Writing Barn – Study Hacks – Cal Newport
The costs of interruptions have been studied in office environments. An interrupted task is estimated to take twice as long and contain twice as many errors as uninterrupted tasks (Czerwinski:04). Workers have to work in a fragmented state as 57% of tasks are interrupted (Mark:05).
For programmers, there is less evidence of the effects and prevalence of interruptions. Typically, the number that gets tossed around for getting back into the “zone” is at least 15 minutes after an interruption. InterviewsWhile the autistic individual is interviewing, they will often be acutely self-aware and preoccupied by their own nervousness and internal coaching, and be simultaneously experiencing two conversations at once—one that is shared... More with programmers produce a similiar number (vanSolingen:98). Nevertheless, numerous figures have weighed in: Paul Graham stresses the differencesOur friends and allies at Randimals have a saying, What makes us different, makes all the difference in the world.Randimals We agree. Randimals are made up of two different animals... More between a maker’s schedule and manager’s schedule. Jason Fried says the office is where we go to get interrupted.
Based on a analysis of 10,000 programming sessions recorded from 86 programmers using Eclipse and Visual Studio and a survey of 414 programmers (Parnin:10), we found:
- A programmer takes between 10-15 minutes to start editing codeCode has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works. What is Code? What is Code? is great interactive... More after resuming work from an interruption.
- When interrupted during an edit of a method, only 10% of times did a programmer resume work in less than a minute.
Research shows that the worst time to interrupt anyone is when they have the highest memory load. Using neural correlates for memory load, such as pupillometry, studies have shown that interruptions during peak loads cause the biggest disruption(Iqbal:04).Programmer Interrupted
People need roughly 23 minutes to go back to their tasks after a major interruption, but the plot deepens if you’re a programmer. Add at least 10 minutes to the forced break (the minimum amount of time you need to start editing code again) and there you go — that’s a solid half hour you lose whenever someone approaches you. It gets worse if that interruption is planned.
They also found out that the worst time to be interrupted is when you have the highest memory load. The silver lining of being interrupted comes into play when the person can either suspend their working state or reach a “good breakpoint” —this way the impact can be reduced. However, transitioning from a high memory state to a low memory state takes about seven minutes, so the interruption is (almost) never without consequences.And it’s gone —The true cost of interruptions
Further readingThere are three types of reading: eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading.The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning Most schools and... More,