Monotropism is an atypical thinking strategy suggested to be the central underlying feature of autism. A monotropic thinker focusses their attention on a small number of interests at any time, tending to miss things outside of this attention zone ( like the difference between a panoramic camera lens and a zoom lens). When living or working with autistic people ( and indeed when being one) I believe that this is a common phenomenon that is experienced. The theory of monotropism was devised by Dr Dinah Murray, Wenn Lawson and Mike Lesser published in the journal Autism ( 2005) as “Attention , monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism”. Wenn Lawson’s further work on the theory formed the basis of his PhD, Single Attention and Associated Cognition in Autism, and book The Passionate Mind.
A tendency to focus attention very specifically tends to cause people to miss things outside of their attention zone though within it their highly focussed attention can create intense experiences, deep thinking and “flow states”. This hyperfocus makes it harder to redirect attention, including starting and stopping tasks, and is often described as executive function deficit ( not exclusive to autism , also found in ADHD)and may lead to stereotypies and perseverative behaviour where a person’s attention is uncontrollably drawn back to the same thing.
The following strategies and approaches are helpful at home or in the workplace and for the individual to further understand themself.
To help autistic individuals in understanding and navigating the world, Murray et al propose that certain steps could be helpful. These include:
- Increase connections with other people through the child’s interests: ‘start where the child is’.
- Allow them to pursue their own interests, and build understanding that way.
- Improve understanding in order to correct false or partial connections.
- Make tasks more attainable by decreasing the number and complexity of them.
- Make tasks and connections more meaningful.[
The focus should not be just on the autistic person’s behaviours, skills or understanding; it is vital – and rewarding – for those around them to put in work to understand their perspectives, too.
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