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What is monotropism?

Monotropism is a theory of autism developed by autistic people, initially by Dinah Murray and Wenn Lawson.

Monotropic minds tend to have their attention pulled more strongly towards a smaller number of interests at any given time, leaving fewer resources for other processes. We argue that this can explain nearly all of the features commonly associated with autism, directly or indirectly. However, you do not need to accept it as a general theory of autism in order for it to be a useful description of common autistic experiences and how to work with them.

This site is intended to be a central resource for learning about Monotropism (as a theory) and monotropism (as a trait).

Read about explanations and applications of the theory, its history, and what’s happening now.


History of Monotropism

Fergus Murray and Wenn Lawson (2022) Dinah Murray completed her PhD in psycholinguistics at University College London in 1985, with the title ‘Language and Interests’. She had spent many years exploring the relations between language, interests and thinking by the time her friend and fellow linguist Robyn Carston lent her a copy of Uta Frith’s ‘Autism: Explaining The Enigma’. Frith really didn’t explain the enigma, but Dinah had an inkling that she might be able to. She set out to get to know autistic people, largely to see if her theory panned out, and ended up being a support worker for many years, and befriending a large number of autistic people, autism professionals and people with autistic family members. She also became a regular at the Durham autism conference, where she first presented on monotropism in public in 1992 with ‘Attention Tunnelling and Autism’. At some point, one of her autistic friends, the non-speaking artist Ferenc Virag, let her know that he didn’t buy her assumption that she wasn’t autistic herself, and although Dinah originally dismissed the idea, she always had the thought at the back of her mind. Meanwhile, Wenn Lawson (then Wendy Lawson) – who had known he was autistic for some time, and was diagnosed in 1994 – was working on a set of very similar ideas in Australia. He wrote of his first meeting with Dinah: ‘Dinah happened to be at a conference, in 1998, where I was presenting on ‘Life and Learning in Autism: Single Focused Attention’. We were both equally excited to hear of the other’s research. It turns out while I had been researching and teaching such concepts in Australia, Dinah had been developing the same thinking in England. That first meeting was to be the beginning of our working partnership and a lifelong friendship’. Language, interests and autism: A tribute to Dr. Dinah Murray (1946–2021), an autism pioneer


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