Whether you are new to the theory or interested in digging deeper, there are many possible places to start.
The animation below is an accessible 4-minute introduction to the key ideas.
Access note: the visuals in this video provide a semi-abstract interpretation of the words, and are not required to understand the content.
I believe that the best way to understand autistic minds is in terms of a thinking style which tends to concentrate resources in a few interests and concerns at any time, rather than distributing them widely. This style of processing, monotropism, explains many features of autistic experience that may initially seem puzzling, and shows how they are connected.
The Monotropism entry in Autism Understood is geared towards younger readers, as are these comic strips by SALT for my Squid which explain some of the central ideas very simply. If you prefer a slideshow type of presentation, try this from Autienelle or this en español; or this comic from Neuro Divers.
- Monotropism, from NeuroPride Ireland (2 minutes)
- Monotropism, from Auticulate (3 minutes, with Sign Supported English)
- Monotropism in Autism, from Wenn Lawson (5.5 minutes)
- Monotropism and flow states, from Damian Milton (9 minutes)
- Monotropism: One Step at a Time, from Autistamatic (11.5 minutes)
- Making sense of autism: Monotropism and the mind as an interest system, from Fergus Murray (13 minutes)
- Monotropism and Wellbeing, from Fergus Murray (56 minutes)
- Explaining Autistic experience, from Aucademy (108 minutes)
- Wenn Lawson with Jamie Knight and Robyn Steward, 1800 Seconds on Autism (27 minutes)
- Dinah and Fergus Murray with John Offord, Different Minds (34 minutes)
- Wenn Lawson and Fergus Murray with Doug Blecher, Autism Stories (80 minutes)
- Fergus Murray with Anne Borden King, Noncompliant (45 minutes)
Longer Articles and Papers
The 2005 paper Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism (pdf, epub, journal) by Dinah Murray, Wenn Lawson and Mike Lesser is the key academic text, with Wenn’s book The Passionate Mind going into a good deal more depth and his 2013 paper for OA Autism looking at it from more of a neuroscience angle. Dinah and Mike were interviewed for The Observer in 2005: ‘Say it loud, autistic and proud‘. Dinah also wrote the Monotropism entry for the Volkmar Encyclopedia of Autism; her chapter Dimensions of Difference for The Neurodiversity Reader is an update on her thinking.
The article Me and Monotropism: A unified theory of autism by Dinah’s youngest, Fergus Murray, is relatively accessible, and shouldn’t take most readers more than 15 minutes to read. It has also been translated into Spanish (español), Norwegian (Norsk) and Hungarian (magyar nyelv).
Stimpunks has a substantial glossary entry on monotropism, drawing on many of the above sources. They also have a longer article ‘Redefining Autism Science with Monotropism and the Double Empathy Problem‘ with many jumping off points to learn more.
More About Autism
‘So what exactly is autism?’ (pdf) (Damian Milton 2012) provides a good overview of autism theory (as of 2012) and makes a strong case for Monotropism.
A Critical Realist Approach on Autism (Marianthi Kourti 2021) argues that the Double Empathy Problem and Monotropism both ‘provide a theory of autism that is deeper than the neurotypical counterparts they are responding to’ by bringing in the insights of autistic people.
Understanding and Working with the Spectrum of Autism (book, Wenn Lawson 2001) was well ahead of its time, presenting an autistic view of what it means to be autistic, together with detailed insights on how to work with autistic people.
‘Keeping it all inside‘ (pdf) (Cathy Wassell & Emily Burke 2022) is a very informative ‘white paper on an internal presentation of autism and why it’s often missed’ – focusing on what autism is more likely to look like in girls, while being clear that it can present much the same way in people of any gender.
‘Atypical resource allocation may contribute to many aspects of autism‘
(Emily J. Goldknopf 2013) looks at neurological evidence that fits with the hypothesis that autistic processing resources tend to be more concentrated.
Roundabout Hypothesis (Chris Memmott 2018) is a metaphor or model for autistic thinking, which is closely related to monotropism. Another one is Splines Theory: A Spoons Metaphor for Autism (Luna Corbden 2013).
‘An Updated Monotropism theory: A Developmental Model & Pathological Demand-Avoidance‘ (video, Richard Woods 2019, revised 2022) explores the relationship between monotropism, anxiety and demand avoidance.
- Coping with multiple channels is hard
This can be sensory channels or other information streams.
- Filtering is tricky and error-prone
Sometimes I can’t tune things out, other times I filter them out completely.
- Changing tracks is destabilising
Task-switching is hard, and new plans take work.
- I often experience things intensely
Usually things that relate to my concerns and interests.
- I keep looping back to my interests and concerns
It’s hard to let things drop.
- Other things that drop out of my awareness tend to stay dropped
I may need reminders.
See also Monotropism In Practice.