Category Archives: autism

On Autism

I was formally identified as autistic at the age of 31, in 2010. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years exploring what it means, for me and for other autistic people, as well as for the rest of the world. In that time I’ve slowly been getting more open about being on the autistic spectrum, but until now I’ve never posted much about it here.

I have written a lot about autism, and links to my writings are collected at the bottom of this post. I have also linked almost all of them in the next six paragraphs, providing a whistle-stop tour of my thinking on this.

Fergus peers at the viewer through a macro lens acting as a magnifying glass.

Photo of the author by Alice Ross

I suggest you start with these starting points for understanding autism. I see Monotropism as the best lens through which to view autism, and I have collected various explanations of it here (mostly other people’s) as well as exploring its practical implications and talking about its history. In short, I believe that autistic people are generally more monotropic than others, which is to say our processing resources are more intensely focused on a smaller number of things at any given time. My mum, Dr. Dinah Murray, spent many years developing this theory. I have been writing and speaking about it since 2018, and working on an archive of her work since 2022. I also helped to develop the Monotropism Questionnaire, in an effort to measure how monotropic people are; this has backed up the suspicion that monotropism is involved in ADHD, too.

Autism should be seen as a natural aspect of human diversity, but to recognise neurodiversity is not to be in denial about autism as a disability. If anything is a disability, autism is – but it’s possible that ‘a disability’ is the wrong way to think about anything, given that disability is always relative to a person’s context. Autistic skill sets tend to be highly uneven (‘spiky’): some things are so much harder that most autistic people are disabled in any given society. We often have many autism-related strengths as well though, and it’s worth thinking about autism when it’s not a disability. The right social and physical environment makes all the difference, but the way that autistic executive functioning is different from other people’s can still cause problems with work and home life.

The differences in the way autistic people function also lead to two-way failures of empathy at times, which explains why so much effort has gone into normalisation of autistic people, trying to squish stimming and other things that make us stand out, rather than making the most of our strengths. Failure to respect differences has been disastrous for our mental health, as it often has been for other marginalised groups. Arguing for autistic rights means learning some lessons from feminism and the politics of everything elseFailing to learn those lessons risks creating people like Elon Musk.

In order to work with our differences, we need to understand that not everyone is on the autistic spectrum; autistic spectroscopy is much more subtle than that. Monotropism explains autistic experiences more coherently and in more depth than other psychological theories of autism have ever managed, but part of that is understanding the many different ways it manifests. The intensity of autistic interests directly gives rise to the spiky skills profiles I talked about earlier, as well as the executive functioning differences, and the focusing of processing resources explains many of the social difficulties. Psychologists still have much to learn by listening to autistic people – which might help them to avoid disasters like Spectrum 10k and ABA.

I co-founded the Autistic Mutual Aid Society Edinburgh (AMASE) because people have too often relied on non-autistic perspectives on autism, rather than taking the principle of Nothing About Us Without Us as their starting point, and because getting to know other autistic people is profoundly important for autistic people trying to understand themselves and connect with others. I co-wrote the AMASE guide to doing things About Us, With Us.

Lacking any understanding of autism from the inside, or even the right words to talk about it, people have often struggled to bring together theory and practice. As a teacher myself, I hope that my autism tips for teachers, making education work for the next generation of neurodivergent pupils and everything else I have written on the subject, can help bridge that gap.

Those writings in full:

  1. Neurodiversity and Mental Health (10 minute read, Medium estimates)
  2. Autism and Normalisation (4 min)
  3. Autism and Feminism (8 min)
  4. Isn’t Everyone On The Spectrum? (2 min, or 3 min audio)
  5. Fidgeting, Spinning, and Normalising Stimming (5 min)
  6. Autism as a Disability (11 min) – en español, Espectro Autista Como Una Discapacidad: ¿Qué Significa Discapacidad?
  7. Autism at work (6 min, or 8 min audio)
  8. Autism and Empathy (4 min)
  9. Autism and Executive Functions (5 min) – en español, Espectro Autista y Función Ejecutiva
  10. Why ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ should be an autism policy principle (4 min)
  11. What Neurodiversity Isn’t (6 min, or 8 min video/audio)
  12. Me and Monotropism: A Unified Theory of Autism (13 min) – en español, El Monotropismo y Yo: Una Teoría Unificada del Autismo – és magyarul, Én és a monotróp figyelem: egy egységes autizmus elmélet  – på norsk, Monotropisme og meg – en helhetlig teori om autisme
  13. Theories and Practice in Autism (5 min) – en español, Teorías y Práctica en el Autismo
  14. Starting Points for Understanding Autism: Monotropism in Practice (11 min) – en español, Puntos de Partida Para Entender en Autismo
  15. Autism when it’s Not a Disability (7 min)
  16. Autism and the Politics of Everything Else (5 min, or 6 min video/audio)
  17. Autistic Spectroscopy (5 min)
  18. Autistic Skill Sets: Spiky Profiles (4 min) – en español, Desarrollo de Habilidades de Personas en el Espectro Autista: Un Perfil Con Altibajos
  19. Neurodiversity is for Everyone (5 min, or 7 min video/audio)
  20. We’re here. We’re weird. Get used to it. (8 min, or 9 min video/audio)
  21. Our society is terrible at assessing value (a twitter thread; see also this E2 post)
  22. Autism policy and Edinburgh Council
  23. The A Word (4 min)
  24. Autistic Glossary (for AMASE, with some input from Sonny and others)
  25.  Autistic People’s Organisations (APOs) and Autistic Rights (10 minutes – see video)
  26. March 4th is Weird Pride Day
  27. We’re here. We’re weird. Get used to it. (8 min read; 9 min video or audio)
  28. TV Review: Pablo
  29. Making education work for the next generation of neurodivergent pupils (6 min read; 10 min video) en español, Hacer que la educación funcione para la próxima generación de alumnos neurodivergentes
  30. Weird Pride Day (5 min read; not specifically about autism)
  31. Is autism a disability? Is toadflax a weed? (3 min read)
  32. Craft, Flow and Cognitive Styles (17 min read or 23 min video)
  33. My ‘Rather Weird’ Mum (3 min read) – en español, Mi Madre ‘Bastante Rara’ 
  34. Outstanding Concerns about Spectrum 10K (4 min read)
  35. Autism and Scientism (7 min read) – also in the MCA Research Journal
  36. Colours, Categories and the Pursuit of Objectivity (10 min read or 12.5 min video or audio)
  37. Elon Musk’s Autistic Anti-Patterns (13 min read)
  38. Monotropism and Wellbeing (40 min read or 55 min video)
  39. Scottish Greens vote to ban ‘behaviour modification’ practices for disabled people (6 min read)
  40. My Mum and Monotropism (5 min read, 6 min video)
  41. Autism and Mainstreaming in Scottish schools (12 min video)

Discussions:

  1. The AMASE Research Podcast (with co-host Sonny Hallett and various guests)
  2. Arguing for Autistic Rights: the backlash against neurodiversity & how to overcome it (audio and video – with Judy Singer and Janine Booth)
  3. A Better Way to Understand Autism (with John Harrison)
  4. Autism Stories podcast on monotropism (with Doug Blecher) and again with Wenn Lawson
  5. Monotropism discussion (with Caroline Hearst of AutAngel)
  6. Different Minds podcast on monotropism (with my mother, Dinah Murray, and John Offord)
  7. Explaining Autistic experience: Monotropism: Fergus & Tanya educate Aucademy
  8. Weird Pride with David Gray-Hammond, Katie Munday, Charlie Hart, and Fergus Murray
  9. Neurodiversity Outdoors, with Andy Smith, Michael James and Stefania Donzelli at the Forest School Association conference
  10. No Mind Left Behind… in Education with Pete Wharmby and Elliott Spaeth at ITAKOM
  11. Autistic Access to Mental Health update (with Sonny Hallett)
  12. Elle McNicoll talks neurodiversity and books
  13. Pete Wharmby on education, monotropism, writing and the internet