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An Updated Interest Based Account (Monotropism theory): A Developmental Model and Demand Avoidance Phenomena.



This talk is adapted version of this talk: "An Updated Interest Based Account (Monotropism theory) & a Demand Avoidance Phenomenon discussion." Available at the link below: I expanded the monotropism section to include a focus on how Trauma, Social, emotional and mental health issues can explain PDA. The talk also provides an update of my current activities. This monotropism talk, details how the theory explains anxiety in autism. Also provides a developmental model that explains PDA in autistic persons. I have left out the slides containing scientific issues with PDA, please see the link above for that information.
Monotropism & DAP. 1
An Updated Interest Based Account
(Monotropism theory): A Developmental
Model and Demand Avoidance
Richard Woods.
01st November 2019.
Monotropism & DAP. 2
About me.
1) Diagnosed autistic in 2012.
2) Demand Avoidance Phenomena (DAP).
3) Meets DAP proposed profile, but that does not
mean much.
4) Independent Scholar.
5) Lateral thinker, not longitudinal.
6) Portfolio.
Monotropism & DAP. 3
Autism Policy & Practice.
1) Open Access autistic-led good practice
2) Access via link below:
Monotropism & DAP. 4
DAP Expert.
1) Written articles, book chapters.
2) Delivered conference talks, topics such as
scientific issues around DAP & neutral ethical
3) Trained Postgrad students at Anna Freud
4) Seeking to do a DAP PhD at LSBU under Eddie
Chaplin and Damian Milton, aiming for
September 2020 start.
5) Covering Monotropism autism theory.
Monotropism & DAP. 5
A content analysis.
1) Nick Chown analysed BAP and autistic traits
tools for specificity (2019).
2) Suggests these 2 terms are result of word
games as they these constructs lack
3) DAP is argued to fall under BAP (Eaton 2018a).
4) Currently replicating Chown (2019) study with
DAP tools.
Monotropism & DAP. 6
A content analysis.
1) DAP has no specificity (Attwood 2018; Christie
et al 2012; Christie & Fidler 2015; Garralda
2003; Malik and Baird 2018; PDA Society 2019;
Wing 2002).
2) Signs of DAP seen in Asperger’s case studies
(Falk 2019; Philip & Contejean 2018; Sanchez
3) My hypothesis: DAP has no specificity.
4) Analysis should be completed by mid-
November 2019.
Monotropism & DAP. 7
Preferred name.
1) Demand to change its name (Eaton 2018;
Gillberg 2014; Milton 2017a; Newson et al
2003; PDA Society 2019; Reilly et al 2014;
Sanchez 2018; Woods 2019b).
2) Lack of compelling evidence to say exactly
what DAP is (Green et al 2018a; Milton 2017a;
Woods forthcoming).
3) Ethically, a balanced perspective should be
presented (Brooks et al 2014; Dawson 2004;
Rutter & Pickles 2016; Waltz 2007).
4) Demand Avoidance Phenomena, DAP.
Monotropism & DAP. 8
Preferred name.
1) Professionals and teams working with
children need to become aware of the ways in
which girls can mask their difficulties, and
need to move away from using the DSM as a
“bible”. Stating that someone does not fulfil
criteria, when these criteria are based on
upon a “male” presentation of a disorder, is
short sighted in the extreme(Eaton 2018,
2) Applicable to those dogmatically favouring
DAP as a form of autism.
Monotropism & DAP. 9
Preferred name.
1) One of the strengths of the current study
was that the data used were collected in 2010
or earlier: for the most part prior to the
large peak in interest in PDA As such, it is
likely that clinicians were not particularly ‘on
the lookout’ for PDA features in their cases…
was possible to get an honest and unbiased
picture of the features of PDA in this sample”
(O’Nions et al 2016a, p418).
2) Campaigning for DAP as form of autism
probably creates source of confirmation bias.
Monotropism & DAP. 10
Monotropism 101.
1) Attention is a scarce resource, there is
competition for its use by myriad interests.
2) An interest is anything that gains your
attention; from sensory stimuli, thoughts to
3) Each person can only process a certain amount
of attention resource at any moment.
4) Continuum of perceiving attention; One end is
Monotropism and the other Polytropism.
5) Autistic persons tend to be monotropic.
6) Non-autistic persons tend to be polytropic.
Monotropism & DAP. 11
Monotropism 101.
1) Attention tunnels are made from attention
2) Monotropism is with a single attention tunnel
when entire attention resource is used.
3) Polytropism is with many attention tunnels
that have similarly distributed attention
Monotropism & DAP. 12
Single attention tunnel leads to:
1) Interests are processed sequentially in order
of importance.
2) Experiencing intense sensations.
3) Binaric black and white thinking.
4) External information being occluded from
5) Intensity of our thoughts leave stronger
impression on subconscious.
6) More difficult to restart attention tunnels.
Monotropism & DAP. 13
The evidence base:
1) Theoretically is the strongest autism theory
(Woods & Waltz 2019).
2) The theory lacks direct empirical research.
3) Emerging qualitative evidence (Bertilsdotter-
Rosqvist 2019; Leatherland 2018; Wood 2019).
4) Stuart et al (2019) results, support theory I am
5) Wenn Lawson is a leading monotropism expert
(Lawson 2011; Murray 2011).
Monotropism & DAP. 14
An Interest Based Account Reading.
1) For further reading see (Murray et al 2005):
2) The Passionate Mind (Lawson 2011).
3) Monotropism An Interest Based Account of
Autism (Murray 2018).
4) Me and Monotropism: A unified theory of
autism (Murray 2019):
Monotropism & DAP. 15
Different states of attention tunnels.
1) Flow states.
2) Clumping.
3) Biolooping.
Monotropism & DAP. 16
Flow States.
1) An optimal experience that is beneficial to our
wellbeing and happiness.
2) Experienced when a person is deeply involved
in an activity and nothing else seems to
3) Flow states can happen in social interaction.
4) Provide stability, e.g. an escape from anxiety.
5) Such activities that engage with flow states
can become a compulsion and addictive.
6) Aversive to chaotic life outside of the person.
7) (McDonnell & Milton 2014).
Monotropism & DAP. 17
Clumping Attention Resource.
1) Where the flow of attention resource is halted
due to sticking together.
2) Can form blockages to prevent attention
resource bringing certain information into
person’s awareness.
3) (McDonnell & Milton 2014).
Monotropism & DAP. 18
1) How a person’s mental state affects their
physical state.
2) Also vice versa.
3) A person thinking they are ill, can make
themselves ill.
4) Again, vice versa.
5) Yoga.
6) (Hacking 1999).
Monotropism & DAP. 19
Developing Monotropism.
1) N = Attention Resource (Murray 2018).
2) A = Anxiety.
3) F = Flow states. Duration and intensity of a
flow state.
4) R = Stored N. Depleted by persons using N
Monotropism & DAP. 20
Developing Monotropism.
1) C = Capacity: N that is available for use after
automatic cognitive processing; forming the
perception based on sensory inputs and any
intrusive thoughts that consume R before it
can be used for day-to-day tasks (Murray et al
2) Higher F = Higher N and Lower A.
3) Higher F Higher C.
4) Higher F Higher R.
Monotropism & DAP. 21
Fidler & Christie, Matching The Dials.
1) Person has a threshold capacity to demands,
determined by their anxiety levels.
2) There are 2 dials.
3) First for a person’s tolerances to demands.
4) Second for person’s levels of experienced
5) If first dial is high, demand and expectations
can be raised.
6) If first dial is low, demand and expectations
should be lowered.
7) Synchronise dials as much as possible.
8) (Fidler and Christie 2019, pp. 26-27).
Monotropism & DAP. 22
Monotropism and anxiety.
1) All humans (and animals) need stability.
2) Points of interest can be stability points.
3) Black/ white thinking style. Either have
certainty/ uncertainty on a subject.
4) Obscure other thoughts that are linked to the
subject of interest; obscure & reduce anxiety.
5) Therefore these flow states form fixed points
of stability for autistic persons.
Monotropism & DAP. 23
Monotropism and anxiety.
1) Autistic persons engage with subjects that
interest them.
2) Requires significant N to engage with
uninteresting matters.
3) Explains autistic social communication issues.
4) When a person has no N and an attention
tunnel is violently disrupted, an autistic
person can lose control; go into meltdown/
shutdown/ panic attacks.
5) Autistic persons will tend to have higher
anxiety levels due to black and white
Monotropism & DAP. 24
Monotropism and anxiety.
1) Autistic persons being 1-2% of population and
not interested in non-autistic social norms;
they have different sources of stability.
2) Polytropism easily engages in social
interactions; thus forming flow states from it.
3) Non-autistic benefiting from lower anxiety
and increased R.
4) Non-autistic stability also comes from
understanding non-autistic social interaction
and being able to rely on this consistently.
Monotropism & DAP. 25
Flow state Example & Implications.
1) Autistic person’s breakfast routine, allows
person to function for rest of the day.
2) Autistic person is in a flow state from that
3) Benefiting from reduced anxiety and
increased N. If it is a flow state present from
the routine, it would be a fixed point as
explained by Monotropism.
4) Regular low levels of R and C over extended
time periods can lead to trauma and anxiety.
Monotropism & DAP. 26
Polytropism & Anxiety.
1) Non-autistic persons can experience
inconsistent social interaction.
2) Some staff also find it anxiety provoking to
spend extended periods of time with another
person who is anxious and has mood swings.
This group of pupils can be very intense to
work with, which is tiring” (Fidler and
Christie 2019, p. 140).
3) Anxiety here can also be explained by masking
(Goffman 1963).
Monotropism & DAP. 27
Polytropism & Anxiety.
1) DAP parents often have higher anxiety levels
than either autism parents & CD parents
(Durà-Vilà & Levi 2019).
2) Correlation between parents with high anxiety
& children with high anxiety (Howard 2017).
Monotropism & DAP. 28
Steph’s Two Girls Example.
1) For years now, Sasha has controlled the
music in the car, and we have one CD on
repeat for weeks or months at a time. From
any one CD, there is usually only a handful of
songs at most which can be selected; I think
I've become immune to the repetition but am
sure others would find it unbearable if they
joined us regularly on our journey. It's become
apparent in the last few days that Sasha now
needs to listen to certain songs at a certain
time in the journey(Curtis 2018).
Monotropism & DAP. 29
SOR Developmental Model (Howard 2017).
Monotropism & DAP. 30
Monotropism DAP Model.
1) Howard Model can be adapted for Sensory
Under Responsivity & Monotropism.
2) Howard Model is applicable for trauma-based
developmental delays.
3) Neurological differences can be from in-utero
Monotropism & DAP. 31
Monotropism DAP Model.
1) Monotropism uses an embodied mind/
environment feedback (Murray 2019).
2) Crucially, from birth.
3) Mechanisms for biolooping & looping effects
(Hacking 1999; Heasman & Gillespie 2018;
Loomes 2019).
Monotropism & DAP. 32
Monotropism DAP Model.
1) Autism + Environment = Outcome (Beardon
2017, p11).
2) Environment component uses DEP &
Goodness of fit” (Green et al 2016; Milton
3) Thus, is transactional.
4) Matching environment to individuals needs
(Green et al 2016).
5) Preschool Autism Communication Trial; PACT
6) Sustained reduction in “severity” of autism
“symptoms” (Pickles et al 2016).
Monotropism & DAP. 33
Monotropic developmental peaks.
(Murray 2019).
Monotropism & DAP. 34
Polytropic developmental peaks.
(Murray 2019).
Monotropism & DAP. 35
Monotropic developmental peaks.
(Murray 2019).
Monotropism & DAP. 36
Environmental Impact on development.
1) More synchronised environment to autistic’s
interests, the more opportunities to enter
flow states.
2) Thus, autistic person will have more fixed
3) Likewise, higher Global Stability levels.
4) Activities that are fixed points are over time
internalise to be part of autistic’s identity.
5) E.g.. Harry Thompson responding to dares
6) Or my bad jokes.
Monotropism & DAP. 37
Environmental Impact on development.
1) More an autistic’s external environment is
matched to their interests.
2) The more densely connected their peaks.
3) Likewise, more external connections between
their peaks.
4) Autistic persons can loose sense of self from
trauma (Milton 2017b).
5) Due to connections between peaks severing &
possibly the shattering of peaks.
Monotropism & DAP. 38
Impact of trauma on development.
1) Process can be exacerbated by experiencing
distressing situations.
2) Can internalise distressing response.
3) Creating a destructive feedback loop.
4) Traumatic experiences can shatter autistic
persons fixed points.
5) This forces individuals to search for different
activities they can enter flow states with.
Monotropism & DAP. 39
Impact of trauma on development.
1) If an autistic person is repeatedly
traumatised, they can gradually shift from
automatically responding to dares to
controlling their food intake. E.g.. Thompson
2) Or retreat to other “extreme” activities as
sources of fixed points, increasingly entering
fantasy worlds.
Monotropism & DAP. 40
Impact of trauma on development.
1) This matters, as over time from repeatedly
entering a flow state by rituals controlling
food intake, these become fixed points.
2) Then internalised to become part of the
person in a form of an eating disorder.
3) Applicable to other “extreme” fixed points.
4) Autistic persons need environments we can
easily enter flow states with many different
5) Give us control of our routines; Structure part
of SPELL Framework (Milton 2017).
Monotropism & DAP. 41
Judy Eaton’s Controlling Food Intake.
1) Often go into meltdowns etc. when pushed to
follow anothers direction.
2) These persons are externalisers.
3) Punished for displaying clear emotions/
making mistakes.
4) Internalise their anger & frustration.
5) Thus to prevent further social isolation,
person control their food intake (behaviour)
instead of other persons to manage their
6) (Eaton 2018, pp. 146-147).
Monotropism & DAP. 42
Easier said than done.
1) Autistic infants can be startled by “trivial”
interactions with carers.
2) With monotropic processing, infant may not
recognise they are in a safe situation when
being hugged; thus is shocked.
3) Can occur repeatedly.
4) Often not carers fault.
Monotropism & DAP. 43
Easier said than done.
1) Startled infants could become hyper aware
and sensitive to their sensory environment.
2) Rises intolerance uncertainty & thus anxiety.
3) Carers told to follow standard parenting
advise raises mismatch between environment
& infant.
4) Generates cycle that deteriorate infants &
carers wellbeing.
5) Often not carers fault.
6) Can explain DAP behaviour in infants.
7) Needs strategies that works with the child.
Monotropism & DAP. 44
Modelling DAP.
1) DAP fixed points tend to be fantasy, role play
& “challenging” behaviour. E.g.. automatically
responding to dares (Thompson 2019).
2) Can be problematic leading by creating
substantial mismatch between autistic &
environment, leading to possible trauma.
3) Essentially views DAPers as traumatised
Monotropism & DAP. 45
Seen in trauma/ attachment based literature.
1) Behaviourist strategies based on rewards &
consequences do not work (Colley and Cooper
2) Building trusting relationships (Brooks 2020;
Pearce 2017).
3) Chaotic worldviews and high anxiety (Brooks
2020; Colley and Cooper 2017; Pearce 2017).
4) Child taking rewards instead of completing
request (Brooks 2020).
5) Desperate carers as traditional approaches do
not work (Brooks 2020).
Monotropism & DAP. 46
Seen in trauma/ attachment based literature.
1) Lack of pride and shame (Brooks 2020).
2) Need to reduce uncertainty (Brooks 2020;
Colley & Cooper 2017; Pearce 2017).
3) Significant overlap with trauma based
strategies, such as DBT and LA Approach
(Woods forthcoming).
4) Use of a key worker (Brooks 2020).
5) Howard Model (2017) is applicable to trauma
based developmental delay & can explain DAP.
6) Hypothesis: DAP is a trauma/ distress
response not specific to autism.
Monotropism & DAP. 47
1) Monotropism can explain anxiety in autism.
2) Developmental model places importance on
matching environment to child.
3) Autistic trauma is often not the carers fault.
Monotropism & DAP. 48
1) I thank the following for commentary on
development of this talk:
2) Carl Cameron, Judy Eaton, Jonathan Green,
Damian Milton, Dinah Murray & Harry
3) Andy McDonnell, Fergus Murray & Catriona
Stewart for having faith in my theorising.
4) Luke Beardon for his Global Instability Theory
that inspired my initial Monotropism work.
Monotropism & DAP. 49
The End Game.
1) Contact Details:
2) Twitter handle:
3) My researchgate:
4) Bibliography can be found in Woods (2019b).
5) Any questions?
Monotropism & DAP. 50
Further discussion.
1) DAP criteria.
Monotropism & DAP. 51
Autism + DAP Traits criteria.
1) Comfortable in role play and pretend.
2) Continues to resist and avoid ordinary
demands of life.
3) Demand avoidance can use social strategies.
4) Lability of mood & impulsive.
5) Obsessive behaviour, often focused on other
6) Surface sociability, but apparent lack of sense
of social identity, pride, or shame (Fidler
2019; Green et al 2018a; Newson et al 2003).
Monotropism & DAP. 52
Optional Autism + DAP Traits criteria.
1) Delayed Speech Development.
2) Neurological Involvement.
3) Passive early history (Newson et al 2003).
4) Sensory differences (Eaton et al 2018).
Monotropism & DAP. 53
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Full-text available
This article explores key reasons for justifying the proto impairment of Demand Avoidance Phenomena (DAP), by investigating the integrity and validity of the construct. DAP is aggressively pushed by non-autistic stakeholders as an autism subtype, to date the circularity around DAP’s construction and operation has received little attention. We deconstruct evidence for DAP and contextualise the DAP profile in wider discourses, specifically of medical, ethics and working practices with autistic persons. Crucially, we demonstrate there is no cognitive or behavioural trait specific to DAP. Finally, we present the results of citation survey that indicate the DAP community has formed a community of practice and we discuss the implications this has on the language around the construct. The circular approach to the construct undermines efforts to research it, while providing a misleading picture of current evidence levels and wider debates. We propose that going forward the scientific method and embracing its’ conflicting nature, is the ethical manner to approach DAP.
Full-text available
This is my letter to the editor (Larry Arnold) at Autonomy, the Critical Journal of Interdisciplinary Autism Studies. The article explores critique of the Autism Education Trust's Pathological Demand Avoidance resources, by contextualising them in inclusive education discourses. The article is open access can be accessed via the link below:
Full-text available
This is a letter to the editor (Larry Arnold) at Autonomy, the Critical Journal of Interdisciplinary Autism Studies. It respond's to a well known article by Damian Milton, I and Mitzi Waltz set out the case for the strength of autistic perspectives and how they can be included in autism research. The author's thank Dinah Murray for her comments during the development of the article. The article is open access and can be accessed via the link below:
Full-text available
Recent allegations that pediatrician Hans Asperger legitimized Nazi policies, including forced sterilization and child euthanasia, are refuted with newly translated and chronologically-ordered information that takes into account Hitler’s deceptive ‘halt’ to the T4 euthanasia program in 1941. It is highly unlikely that Asperger was aware of the T4 program when he referred Herta Schreiber to Am Spiegelgrund or when he mentioned that institution 4 months later on the medical chart of another (unrelated) girl, Elisabeth Schreiber. Asperger campaigned vigorously from 1938 to 1943 to have his specialization, Curative Education, take priority in the diagnosis and treatment of disabled children over other fields that promoted Nazi racial hygiene policies. He neither disparaged his patients nor was he sexist. By 1938, he had identified the essentials of Asperger syndrome and described an unnamed boy whom he later profiled (as Ernst K.) in 1944. Rather than doing ‘thin’ research, Asperger made discoveries that were prescient, and some of his activities conformed to definitions of “individual resistance.”
Full-text available
Having intense or “special” interests and a tendency to focus in depth to the exclusion of other inputs, is associated with autistic cognition, sometimes framed as “monotropism”. Despite some drawbacks and negative associations with unwanted repetition, this disposition is linked to a range of educational and longer-term benefits for autistic children. Meanwhile however, and notwithstanding efforts on the part of school staff to provide support, the inclusion of autistic children in the school curriculum and additional activities is poor. Therefore, in this article, by employing empirical examples from a case study based in five mainstream primary schools in England, and elucidated via thematic analysis, I consider the role and functions of the strong interests of the 10 autistic children who participated, incorporating the views of school staff (n = 36), parents (n = 10) and a sample of autistic adults (n = 10). I delineate how the school staff responded to the intense interests of the autistic children and argue how accepting this cognitive trait can be related to a range of educational, social and affective advantages for the children, as well as less effortful, more empathetic and skilled support on the part of school staff, including a reduction in prompting and task repetition. Furthermore, by suggesting comparisons with the interests and motivations of all children in school, I posit that autistic children in particular, and all children in general, might gain from a deeper cognisance of this trait, which could therefore be incorporated profitably into curricular and pedagogical practices.
Full-text available
The objective was to delineate the prevalence of criminal behavior and school discipline in juvenile justice-involved youth (JJY) with autism. A sample of 143 JJY with autism was matched to comparison groups of JJY without a special education classification, JJY with learning disabilities, and JJY with other special educational needs (N = 572). Results showed that JJY with autism committed significantly fewer property crimes. With regard to school discipline, JJY with autism were least likely to receive policy violations, out-of-school suspensions, and in-school suspensions. Finally, regardless of special education classification, JJY who had a history of fighting in school were more likely to recidivate. Our results suggest that JJY with autism are not more likely to commit crimes compared to JJY without SEN.
Background Pathological demand avoidance (PDA) is a proposed subtype of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), characterised by extreme avoidance of demands. Demand avoidant behaviour has been proposed to be driven by an anxious need to be in control, although has never been explicitly studied. Emerging evidence suggests intolerance of uncertainty (IU) and anxiety may explain the behaviours seen in ASD. We propose these concepts may be useful starting points for furthering understanding of PDA. Methods In Study 1, quantitative methods examined the relationship between PDA, IU and anxiety using data collected in an online survey (N = 214). The sample included cases with clinically diagnosed PDA (n = 69) and those with no clinical diagnosis but parent‐identified features of PDA (n = 151). ‘Children with a diagnosis of PDA scored significantly higher on the IUS‐P (t(212) = 2.45, p < .05) compared to those without a diagnosis of PDA. PDA diagnosis did not impact on scores on any other measure.’ In Study 2, a selection of Study 1 participants (n = 11) were followed up with a telephone interview to gain descriptive data relating to PDA and its association with IU and anxiety. Results Regression analyses indicate that demand avoidant behaviour can be conceptualised in part as a possible attempt to increase certainty and predictability to alleviate increasing anxiety. Children and young people with PDA employed varying strategies to manage IU depending on the level of demand presented and degree of anxiety generated. These strategies can be represented by different features of the behaviour profile seen in PDA (control behaviour, withdrawal to fantasy, and meltdown). These behavioural features of PDA showed differential relationships with IU and anxiety, although all were predicted by IU, only meltdown demonstrated a mediation effect by anxiety. Conclusions This study represents one of the first attempts to conceptualise and understand the behavioural features of the PDA profile in children and young people. It builds upon emerging evidence from the ASD literature that IU is a relevant construct for conceptualising demand avoidant behaviour in children who show PDA behaviour. This has potential clinical implications for the assessment and management of PDA in children and young people.