Monotropism is a term that has gained attention in recent years, particularly in the autism community. But what exactly is monotropism, and why is it important to understand? In this article, we’ll explore the definition of monotropism, its connection to autism, and how it can provide a unique perspective on the world.
What is Monotropism?
Monotropism is a term coined by researcher Dr. Dinah Murray, a parent of an autistic child. Monotropism is a cognitive style characterized by a strong focus on one (or a few) things at a time. It’s like shining a bright spotlight on a particular interest. This intense focus makes it a bit tricky to switch one’s attention to something else.
Monotropism vs. Multitasking
Monotropism is the opposite of multitasking, which is the ability to switch between multiple tasks or topics quickly. While multitasking is often seen as a desirable skill, particularly in the workplace, monotropism is often viewed as a limitation or deficit.
However, Dr. Murray argues that monotropism is not a deficit, but rather a unique cognitive style that can provide valuable insights and perspectives.
Autism and Monotropism
Monotropism is a popular topic in the autistic community because it’s often seen as a defining characteristic of autism. Many autistic adults and children have a strong focus on one or a few interests, often referred to as “special interests” or “obsessions.”
This intense focus can manifest in various ways, such as spending hours researching a specific topic, collecting and organizing items related to a particular interest, or engaging in repetitive behaviors related to the interest.
How is Autistic Monotropism Different From ADHD Hyperfocus?
Monotropism can look like a phenomenon known as hyperfocus, which is a common experience in people with ADHD. Hyperfocus is when someone becomes so fixated on an activity that they lose awareness of their surroundings, often driven by a hunger for dopamine.
Monotropism in autism is often linked to sensory processing differences and a preference for structured information processing. Their intense focus can usually be explained by a desire for predictability and familiarity. (However, ADHD commonly co-occurs with autism, so it’s possible for someone to experience both!)
Autistic Inertia and Executive Functioning
Executive dysfunction is a difficulty impacting the brain’s executive functions—high-order mental processes responsible for planning, organizing, and starting and finishing tasks. It most often affects neurodivergent individuals, such as ADHD, autism, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. But there’s another term that better describes the autistic experience: autistic inertia.
In people with autism, autistic inertia is more than just having trouble with executive dysfunction. It’s about having a hard time changing how your mind works—starting, stopping, or switching focus can feel impossible.
Unfortunately, many experts see monotropism as a deficit because of the way it affects executive functioning. Monotropic minds struggle to shift attention, so it’s hard for them to focus on tasks that aren’t related to their current interest. Dr. Murray believes that monotropism is not a deficit, and the professionals at the Sachs Center agree. It’s more likely that autistic folks display executive dysfunction behaviors because they’re unmotivated by – or uninterested in – the task. It’s not a lack of ability. They just don’t have the inertia for it.
The Unique Perspective of Monotropism in Autistics
Monotropism can provide a unique perspective on the world, as it allows people to deeply immerse themselves in a particular topic or activity. This intense focus can lead to a deep understanding and knowledge of the subject, as well as unique insights and connections.
– Creativity –
Many autists with monotropism have strong creative skills, often using their intense focus to create unique and innovative artwork, music, or writing. This creativity can be seen as a direct result of their monotropic cognitive style. It allows them to think divergently, see the world in a different way, and make connections others may not see.
– Problem-Solving –
Monotropism can also be beneficial in problem-solving. Autistic kids and adults with monotropism may approach problems in a unique way, using their intense focus and expertise of a particular topic to find solutions that others may not have considered.
Taking a Monotropism Questionnaire
The monotropism questionnaire is a tool designed to assess and understand an individual’s cognitive processing style, particularly focusing on the concept of monotropism. The questionnaire typically consists of questions that gauge the extent to which a person exhibits monotropic tendencies. Interpreting the results involves analyzing their responses to figure out the degree of cognitive focus or specialization.
Higher scores may suggest a stronger inclination towards monotropism, indicating a more intense and singular focus on specific subjects.
On the other hand, lower scores might suggest a more distributed and flexible attention span.
It’s important to consider individual differences and the context in which the questionnaire is administered, as various factors can influence cognitive processing styles. Interpretation should be approached with a nuanced understanding of the multifaceted nature of attention and cognitive functioning.
Take a free monotropism questionnaire at the bottom of this page!
Conclusion: Embracing Monotropism in Autistics
Monotropism is a unique cognitive style characterized by an intense focus on specific interests or activities. It offers a distinctive perspective on the world. While it may pose challenges, particularly in the context of autism, embracing monotropism is crucial for fostering a more inclusive and accepting society for autistics.
Educating others about monotropism is a key step in this embrace. Knowing how monotropism relates to autism helps us understand and appreciate the unique way autistics engage with the world. Additionally, providing accommodations and support tailored to the challenges posed by monotropism helps create environments that facilitate success for those with this cognitive style. This may involve offering flexible schedules or alternative methods for completing tasks.
Ultimately, we should celebrate the differences inherent in monotropism. Recognizing and valuing the unique perspectives and insights that monotropism brings enriches our society, promoting diversity and understanding. Embracing monotropism moves us towards a more compassionate and accommodating world, where differences are not only acknowledged but celebrated.
Garau, V., Woods, R., Chown, N., Hallett, S., Murray, F., Wood, R., … Fletcher-Watson, S. (2023, July 25). The Monotropism Questionnaire. https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/WPX5G
How to Take the Test: When reading the questions, imagine situations that are stressful, uncomfortable or when you are excited. Often when we are at home and relaxed and calm, it is hard to tell how we feel. If the question is confusing, look underneath it for an explanation of the question.