Article – What is Monotropism?

Dinah Murray, a researcher, writer, and advocate for autism awareness and acceptance (mum of an autistic child) coined the term “monotropism” in 1992 to describe a cognitive style characterised by a narrow focus of attention on specific interests.

This cognitive style is prevalent in many autistic children and is implicated in various aspects of their lives, such as their ability to tolerate mistakes and disruptions.

It is essential to recognise and celebrate the unique passion and focus of monotropic thinkers. Furthermore, it is helpful to appreciate the central role that interests play in their learning and development. By supporting and incorporating their interests into their daily lives, parents of autistic children can help them thrive and reach their full potential.

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Monotropism is a concept that can help parents of autistic children better understand their child’s cognitive style.

Unlike certain other theories of autism, monotropism doesn’t see the intense focus and narrow interests of individuals with autism as a deficit or disorder. Instead, it suggests that this cognitive style can be seen as a unique and positive feature of autism.

But what exactly is monotropism, and how can it help families and caregivers better support their loved ones? In short, monotropism refers to a cognitive style characterized by intense and narrow interests or passions. This can include everything from an obsession with door handles to a fascination with trains, dinosaurs, or any other topic.

By understanding and supporting their child’s monotropic cognitive style, parents can help their child thrive and reach their full potential. This may involve identifying and encouraging their child’s passions and interests, finding ways to incorporate these into their daily routines and activities, and recognizing the potential benefits of monotropism, including increased creativity, expertise, and academic success.

So while you may not have heard of monotropism before, it can be a powerful tool for understanding and supporting your child. By embracing their unique cognitive style and providing opportunities for growth and development, parents can help their children live fulfilling and rewarding lives.

Struggling with Mistakes

While having a narrow focus on a specific interest can be a source of strength and enjoyment for many autistic children, it can also lead to challenges in certain situations. One of these challenges is difficulty tolerating mistakes and setbacks.

When someone has a narrow focus of attention, it can be challenging to see beyond that focus and consider alternative perspectives or solutions. For example, if an autistic child with monotropism is highly focused on trains, they may have difficulty seeing how other topics or activities are relevant or interesting. This can make it difficult for them to tolerate mistakes or setbacks that occur outside of their area of interest.

Additionally, monotropic thinkers may have a heightened emotional response to mistakes. Because their attention is so deeply focused on their area of interest, mistakes or setbacks may feel more catastrophic to them than to individuals who do not share this cognitive style. This can lead to increased levels of distress, frustration, and anxiety in response to mistakes, which can further impact their ability to learn and develop.

Overall, the combination of a narrow focus of attention and a heightened emotional response to mistakes can make it challenging for autistic children with monotropism to tolerate mistakes and setbacks. However, with understanding and support from caregivers, they can develop coping strategies and tools to manage these challenges and thrive in their areas of interest.

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