Hands in a heart shape holding an infinity rainbox. Underneath the words Sandra Bell ND Coach
#8 I’m monotropic – are you?
  • Attention is finite, the monotropic brain deals with this by focusing narrowly and going deep.
  • Monotropism allows autistic individuals to be better understood and less pathologised.
  • Let the light shine.

Attention is finite, and the monotropic brain deals with this by focusing attention narrowly and going deep.

The concept of monotropism was set forth in a 2005 paper by Dinah Murray, Mike Lesser and Wenn Lawson. They put forth that monotropic brains use a narrow attention band whilst polytropic brains use a broad distribution of attention and that these different strategies for dealing with the finite resource of attention explain why autistic people respond to the environment around them in the way that they do.

The monotropic brain can be thought of as using a narrow beam of light – like a torch – to focus in on a particular topic or task, whilst a polytropic brain has a lamp that casts light all around and allows for attention to be paid to the whole rather than just a part. Imagine you are in a conversation. The monotropic brain naturally wants to focus in on the words being spoken and put the beam of light there - as that is the most obvious communication happening and to also pay attention to eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language disperses the level of attention they can give to the words being said. The polytropic brain is able to use a broader beam of light and take in all these things at once and not be overly pulled in to any individual aspect. 

Monotropism allows autistic individuals to be better understood and less pathologised.

Given monotropism it is then perfectly understandable that in a conversation the autistic or monotropic individual doesn’t want to make eye contact as they don’t want to get distracted and drawn into that aspect of the interaction, they want to focus on the words because that will be the best way for them to understand what the interaction is about.

It also makes it perfectly understandable why transitions are hard – it is much harder to move a narrow beam of light around an environment to focus on a different area then it is to use a broader beam of light from a lamp.


Monotropic minds go narrow and deep, this includes what sensory input is being taken in, so a monotropic brain that has gone deep may not even register that someone is speaking to them to let them know it is time to change focus. Imagine you are student and are monotropic – you’ve finally been able to go deep enough into your English assignment so you don’t notice that the teacher has told the class it is time to finish up and move on to Maths. They are so focused in so they don’t notice the other students start to close books or laptops. Because the majority of the class will be polytropic, as it happens to the dominant brain type, the monotropic student can be seen as inattentive and perhaps even deliberately disobedient. As they are finally pulled out of their deep focus they tend to be dysregulated, and are likely also faced with someone who is frustrated or annoyed with them and they don’t know why. No wonder they display distressed behaviour at a time of transition.

Let the light shine.


Autistic individuals don’t have deficits we have differences – our brains prefer depth to breadth or the narrow beam of a torch light compared to a more diffused lamp light. Rather than ripping the torch out of our hands and shoving a lamp into them and telling us this is the better way. Why can’t we all just let our light shine in the way that works best for our neurology?

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