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Toolkit for Autistic Adults

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Understanding Monotropism

Here are how two of our participants define monotropism 

A number of our participants said that the theory of Monotropism was helpful in describing how autistic people may focus their attention differently to non-autistic people. They felt that this had implications for social encounters, including those which might lead to intimate relationships. They wanted service providers and non-autistic people to be aware of this model. 

Instead of  providing textbook definitions, we've provided you with two examples of what Montropism means to our participants: 


 “Monotropism is a way of thinking about people’s minds and the way they distribute their attention towards different areas of interest, or different things that are aroused in their attention. And the basic concept is that some people are more polytropic and some people are more monotropic. And when you're polytropic, that’s pretty much neurotypical people. So your interest is reasonably evenly distributed.

You [a non-autistic person] might have a particular hobby or something, or there might be something that’s captivating your attention at a particular moment. But you have a broad interest across many areas, and your attention will be broadly spread. So you’ll be sat in the office working on the computer and you’ll notice if someone walks into the room, for example. Whereas an autistic person, their interest and their attention will tend to concentrate more into sort of a single area or a few areas of interest. So you may be a specialist in some particular subject. Or you may be working on the computer and oblivious to everything around you. And you may have a few different areas of kind of heightened activation which is why you get into these conversations where you're talking about something or other, and an autistic guy you're talking to will tell you how that reminds him of… and then in the next 20 minutes he’s reciting something he’s passionate about. But it makes perfect sense when you look at it through his mind. And it doesn’t mean less. It’s sort of like a strength-based way of looking at it”. (Fred, Male, 38, Heterosexual, mixed race)


“Monotropism and polytropism is a way of explaining different styles of thinking and autistic people are thought to be monotropic and that means having a strong single focus of attention, so of all the information coming in you're concentrating quite intensely one part of it, so that means that for example, in a conversation, you're either going to be, you might be either focusing on the content of the conversation or the context and what's going on around it which means that it's really quite hard sometimes just to move from not saying anything to saying hello to then starting the conversation about something”. (Simon, 54, male, heterosexual/queer)

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