Before reading this, it would probably be helpful to read the glossary entry on monotropism – that’s monotropic – which is basically the opposite to polytropic.

The theory goes that large numbers of autistic people are monotropic, and that large numbers of neurotypical people are polytropic. That’s to say that the latter are very good at focussing on numerous activities at once, keeping track of many different things/people at the same time. Multi-tasking is a more familiar phrase associated with such behaviours.

This could be simply fulfilling the day-to-day mundanities of family life, enjoying multiple interests, or work roles – all alongside each other, going between each one without difficulty. No need to be dragged out of the hyperfocussed attention tunnel that us monotropics prefer to hang out in.

These polytropic ‘magicians’ are, according to Fergus Murray, “pulling in multiple strands of information…primed to be on the look out for things like social implications, and effortlessly decod[ing] metaphors and indirect language”. That’s the stuff of fantasy for many of us neurodivergents!

Whilst most monotropic individuals are undoubtedly autistic and most polytropics are surely neurotypical, it isn’t a clear cut line between the two neurotypes. I can think of at least two ADHDers that I know are very much polytropic, who actually thrive on having a ridiculous number of demands to deal with at the same time.

Some of us take a deep dive into a few special interests and some of us take a broader approach of dealing with more tasks at once, but inevitably at less depth. So, I suppose this comes back to the fact that we are all unique and there is no text book definition for any neurotype. It’s just that monotropic tendencies are more likely to be those of autistics and polytropic behaviours are more frequently seen in non-autistics.

So what’s the purpose of this glossary entry? Purely to give us an accessible definition for when we stumble across these words in our reading!