The Interesting Theory

Our most recent reading group session discussed the impactful theory of monotropism. Monotropism is maybe not the best-known theory about autism, but it makes a lot of sense of the experiences of some who are neurodivergent. We looked at a “paper/post” by Fergus Murray who shared his perspective of the theory and its applications. His late mum Dinah Murray had the initial idea, and that academic paper is also listed below. The theory of monotropism proposes a model of the mind as an interest-based system. The idea is that our own special interests attract more of our processing resources. This can make it harder to deal with things outside of the current attention tunnel and interest. It’s harder to focus with multiple streams of attention and input, so where attention is drawn there is a higher intensity of focus. So, this could contribute to the sensory differences autistic individuals experience. People may not be able to tune out senses which can cause them discomfort. Neural pathways that receive stimulation grow stronger. Fergus, Murray suggested there may be long-term hyper-sensitivity in senses receiving intense attentions – whether comforting or not — which may be contributing to the sensory differences that autistic people often experience. 

 Our group felt that the theory of monotropism was very helpful in terms of understanding autism and how it did not feel as much of a deficit focus as other theories. Whilst the paper by Dinah Murray looks at the theory in relevance to diagnostic criteria, Fergus Murray presents a different perspective on the behaviour that is pathologised in the diagnostic criteria.  

We focused on how monotropism might apply within our education system. Sensory differences have formed a part of the work schools focus on, with some implementing sensory rooms or flexible timetables, but overall, the curriculum and school system is not set up for neurodivergent students. School in its current state may be harmful to neurodivergent pupils, with some avoiding school entirely. –Schools can place high value on learning a range of topics within each subject and a range of subjects each day: this means lots of change and transition. We discussed how neuroaffirmative practices would make school a more accessible place for neurodivergent (ND) ND students but that it would also probably be beneficial to all. An ideal would be to have smaller class sizes with more project-based work. This would allow students to gain a more in-depth knowledge about topics instead of the shallower level when learning multiple topics at once to cover the broad curriculum the government thinks children should be learning. The students would be able to learn what interests them, which according to monotropism should allow for greater focus on the work. Alternatively, schools could tailor work to individual interests to stimulate their focus and desire to learn.  

“Life as a monotropic person in a polytropic world is often unstable” (Fergus Murray, Implications for practice, paragraph 2). We thought this statement made sense of the need for stability and structure that is often a key trait of diagnostic criteria. Struggling with change is another trait of autism. This is often stigmatised based on the reactions autistic people can display. In reality, change is something that can be difficult for everyone. You can see it within our systems, like education, that have not had significant positive change. We discussed whether the lack of readiness by those in powerful positions to admit mistakes or bias in their actions can keep systems stagnant. One member of the group said they had visited a self-directed learning college, where the students had individualised projects that had a range of in-depth learning. Alongside this reluctance for change, the cost of breaking down the old and bringing in the new seems unfeasible. Our education system is already undervalued and underfunded and could be changed for the better, but it would be costly. Change can be a daunting prospect, but it is often necessary. 

The ACoRNS team recently took a trip to visit the amazing SAND project in Worthing. Trainees take pathways that are built around their interest allowing them to learn in an environment that suits them. Some of the products of this approach can be seen in their shop (link below), soon to be expanded. Using the interest-based approach that Monotropism theory proposes can really work! This can apply to so many aspects of life and learning: education, diagnostic procedures, workplace environments etc. We felt that using skills and interests and affirmative practices in a range of settings could have a positive impact for everyone, which is why we really enjoyed discussing the interesting Theory of Monotropism.  




The SAND Store  



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