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Monotropism – An Interest Based Account of Autism

Authors:
M
Monotropism An Interest
Based Account of Autism
Dinah Murray
National Autistic Taskforce, London, UK
Synonyms
Attention tunneling,Hyper/hypo responses,
Intense interests,Passionate minds,Splinter skills
Definition
The central idea of monotropism (a word coined
for Murray in 1992 by Jeanette Buirski) is that in
autism, processing resource strongly tends to
localize and concentrate to the exclusion of other
input; an atypicality from which many other dif-
ferences can be seen to follow. Understanding this
concept fully requires a view of mind as a system
of interests which inform cognitive, perceptual,
and emotional processes. Hence this denition
briey sketches that model.
Interests are what we care about, what we
spontaneously give attention to, and what we
value (if only briey). In our model they are
fueled by a scarce resource (N =interestor
attention) of highly and dynamically varying
distribution both within and between different
individuals (see Murrays PhD, 1986), Language
structures interest systems (guaranteeing mental
overlap) and is an expressive tool for manipulat-
ing ones own or othersinterests. This dynamic,
ecological, model of minds (and sets of minds)
can help us see how the pattern of autistic intense
interests (in all DSMs and ICDs) leads to such a
complex and varied range of people and activity;
this model predicts innite neurodiversity, with
emergent patterns of resource distribution.
We hold this can make sense of a wide range of
autistic phenomena: all or nothingthinking;
coordination and integration issues at every
level; executive function and mentalizingchal-
lenges; hyper and hypo sensibilities; difculties
set switching; enhanced perceptual processing; in
addition, splinter skills(Dawson 2018) and
early language regression, particularly singled
out as puzzling anomalies by Rutter and Pickles
(2016). A scarce resource account, spoon the-
ory(Miserando 2003), which overlaps with an
interest model, has become popular among autis-
tic people (Memmott 2018).
The key implication reintervention of this way
of thinking has long been summed up in the old
autism as, Start where the child [person] is.
Some Significant Features of the Model
For anyone, the more intensively localized is
N (at any given time) the more keenly experienced
the current interest will be.
Endogenous absorption is likely to yield high-
performance within-interest:
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018
F. R. Volkmar (ed.), Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6435-8_102269-1
The more absorbing the ow, the more disrup-
tive diversion is likely to be and the more potential
there is for resource absence (inattention/zero pro-
cessing) elsewhere
Cross-ow intrusions across the switched on
area will tend to be highly turbulent and may
abruptly use up and replace available N and/or
become expressed in ways that may seem
angry or frightening to others.
Feedback via expression in rehearsal or real
action in the outside world may be trapped”–
unable to invoke wider activation, instead
feeding back to the same locus, risking over-
stimulation and a disabling crisis.
When ow is obstructed and spoilt, recovery
time is needed; turbulence needs to settle and
levels of N be restored and available for distri-
bution; this will take longer the more powerful
the disrupted ow.
Or a owstate may be achieved and in-ow
processing will ultimately replenish
N throughout the system.
Co-ordinating distinct interests (to forge a new
whole) will require extra effort.
Moving out of an endogenous focal interest
will require overcoming turbulence and
re-aligning: it will take extra effort; undergoing
that may be a strongly aversive experience. It is a
main use of speech and language to reach into
ones headand do things there; therefore, speech
can be powerfully aversive unless it goes with
the ow/starts where the person is.Also,
because ones own speech has an impact on others
too but one has minimal control over its effects,
those who do take up speech may give it up later.
The pattern of action above may predict long
term
Very uneven development of connections
Denser than typical, instantly available
connections
Sparser than typical long-reach connections
Continuing developmental increases of
especially long-reach connections
Less blurriness, less room for manoeuvre,
and less socially oriented structuring of con-
nections than a more typical person
A strong drive for certainty derived from
personal investigation, as all else appears
unreliable.
Qualities of ow, turbulence, activation, inhi-
bition, expression, and connection seem likely to
have physical correlates. This model suggests
some possible meanings for those. Murray et al.
(2005) compared monotropic distribution of N to
a torch beam vs. a lantern but we now prefer a
water analogy, as water has ow and turbulence,
and nds its way through any gap: monotropic
people appear especially good at spotting the
cracks and gaps. To seed the dry zonessuccess-
fully, irrigate them with interest rst.
On the basis of a monotropic, interest-based
interpretation of autism, of much research and of
our own long-term observations, we recommend:
encouraging and sharing delights, only redirecting
(going off-ow) when essential (as it often is),
building learning through interests and permitting
recovery time for all redirection (See also Lawson
2011). Shared interests foster mutual understand-
ing and fellow feeling, and help overcome what
Milton (2012) characterizes as the double empa-
thy problem,in which neither party grasps the
others intent. Instead people are equally engaged
with each other.
An interest system is a biologically grounded
value system. Executive function and social
adjustment challenges make demands on our pro-
cessing resource and interfere with our doing the
things we do most sweetly. Some of those things
may involve shared experiences with meanings
passionately connected to a common weal and
transcending issues of prot or gain. In contrast
to the notion of reading other individualsminds
in order to guess what they are thinking, or where
you stand in relation to them and using language
effectively to manipulate othersinterest systems,
this way of sharing experience is not about pre-
sentation of self to self but about a freedom of
shared joy and wonder that entirely transcends
self. Its difcult being a human, whoever you are.
2 Monotropism An Interest Based Account of Autism
References and Reading
Dawson, M. (2018). Splinter skills and cognitive strengths
in autism. In E. B. Braaten (Ed.), The SAGE encyclo-
pedia of intellectual and developmental disorders.
Lawson, W. (2011). The passionate mind: How individuals
with autism learn. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Milton, D. E. M. (2012). On the ontological status of
autism: The double empathy problem.Disability &
Society, 27(6), 883887.
Miserandino, C. (2003). Cited in Memmott, A (2018),
Autism and spoon theory. http://annsautism.blogspot.
com/2018/02/autism-and-spoon-theory.html. Accessed
28 Feb 2018.
Murray, D. K. C. (1992). Attention tunnelling and autism.
In Living with autism: The individual, the family, and
the professional.Durham conference proceedings,
obtainable from autism research unit. School of Health
Sciences, University of Sunderland, UK.
Murray, D. K., Lesser, M., & Lawson, W. (2005). Atten-
tion, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for
autism. Autism, 9, 139156.
Rutter, M., & Pickles, A. (2016). Annual research review:
Threats to the validity of child psychiatry and psychol-
ogy. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57,
398416.
Monotropism An Interest Based Account of Autism 3
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... In those circumstances where increased mutual manifestness makes understanding less effortful (in both a technical relevance theoretic, and an intuitive sense), more cognitive resources are available for language production. Furthermore, according to the theory of monotropism, the attention of monotropic individuals is not simply narrowed, but also sharpened (Murray et al., 2005;Murray, 2018Murray, , 2020. In states of "monotropic superdrive" (Murray et al., 2005, p. 143) finer-grain details may carry heightened relevance. ...
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... The concept of monotropism nevertheless constitutes a more constructive way of appraising the cognitive dispositions of autistic people, setting aside pejorative framings such as "fixated" (APA 2013) or "obsessive" (Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright 1999), to be replaced instead by an "interest model" of autism in which the advantages of this cognitive style are promoted (McDonnell and Milton 2014;Murray 2018). Moreover, this model also creates opportunities to revaluate weak central coherence theory -a posited difficulty in understanding the general meaning of information rather than focusing on individual details (Briskman, Frith and Happé 2001) -as well as the disparaging notion of "repetitive behaviour" (Bodfish et al. 2000), which could also be usefully reconsidered from the perspective of monotropism (McDonnell and Milton 2014). ...
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The passionate mind: How individuals with autism learn
  • W Lawson
Lawson, W. (2011). The passionate mind: How individuals with autism learn. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Autism and spoon theory
  • C Miserandino
Miserandino, C. (2003). Cited in Memmott, A (2018), Autism and spoon theory. http://annsautism.blogspot. com/2018/02/autism-and-spoon-theory.html. Accessed 28 Feb 2018.
Durham conference proceedings, obtainable from autism research unit. School of Health Sciences
  • D K C Murray
Murray, D. K. C. (1992). Attention tunnelling and autism. In Living with autism: The individual, the family, and the professional. Durham conference proceedings, obtainable from autism research unit. School of Health Sciences, University of Sunderland, UK.