This guest post was authored by Tanya Adkin
“At any one moment, the amount of attention an individual can give is limited”
(Murray et al., 2005)
So, what happens when a monotropic mind is forced to live in a polytropic way?
A monotropic individual focuses more detailed attention over fewer attention streams than a polytropic (non-Autistic) individual. When they are forced into environments where they must perform like a polytropic person, the amount of attention to detail they apply to multiple attention streams doesn’t decrease, all that happens is the monotropic mind experiences trauma by being pushed into trying to give more attention than any individual can cognitively give.
I call this monotropic split. The monotropic mind is having to split its attention and give more mental energy and attention than it has available to be able to withstand the environment it is in and remain safe.
When we think of an Autistic person experiencing overwhelm, we are thinking of a monotropic mind taking on more than it can process and creating meltdown or shutdown. Therefore, experiencing monotropic split is the cause of meltdown or shutdown.
When we think of an Autistic person who masks, “copes” and “gets by” which eventually leads to burnout or mental health crisis, we are again thinking of a monotropic mind being forced to perform in a way that traumatises its processing capabilities. This is monotropic split causing trauma, burnout, or mental health crisis.
When we think of a child stuck in a constant state of hyperarousal, looking out for danger because they are being put through a school system that forces them to perform polytropic tricks. Monotropic split and the subsequent cognitive trauma is the cause of the constant hyperarousal.
Autistic demand avoidance is a result of monotropic split because the Autistic person simply has been working in a state of attention hyperactivity for so long that they cannot tolerate any demand as that would re-traumatise their already overstretched attention capacity, so therefore they avoid the demand.
Monotropic split is something that every Autistic person experiences to varying degrees as a result of existing in an unaccommodating world.
Autism + Environment = Outcome.