Staying Put, Monotropism & Me

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For many years I worked really fantastically well at the local cafe. It was inside a mothercare shop near my home. I could safely wonder across, sit in a specific seat and my brain would light up. I’d get into flow and I got so much done.

The cafe closed a couple of years ago then the pandemic started. I suddenly found it almost impossible to get my brain to fire up.

It’s taken a few years but I finally have a replacement that works just as well. The most interesting thing is why it works and how that lens has changed my entire life.

The lens

I’ll start with the lens. I am highly monotropic. I focus intensely on a few things and get into very flowy attention tunnels.

The cafe was one of the few robust attention tunnels I had. I built my life around it. Get up. Go to cafe. Do BBC work. Maybe then come home. Rest. Go back to cafe later to do side projects.

I didn’t understand at the time why it worked so well. I knew it was a good environment but why it was so good wasn’t obvious.

It worked because of the tunnels. It enabled me to ‘plan tunnels not tasks’. To build my day around my flow states.

Tunnels not tunnelling

In the cafe I always sat on the same row of seats. It turns out… I’ve had a sensitive tailbone for years and spent years thinking ‘this chair isn’t comfy’ when what I should have understood was ‘I’m in pain and should see a doctor about why I can’t sit down’. Doh. Language is hard.

Anyway… the cafe spot was physically comfortable. It had easy access to food and drinks and I felt safe. The cafe staff kept the space safe and I could be absorbed into my attention tunnel.

The tunnel was wide and easy to enter. To stretch the analogy… the attention tunnels I need run through the environment. The environment is the rock I am moving through.

Rather than drilling the tunnels (which consumes vast energy - ADHD folks know what I mean!) I need the environment to open up a space for the tunnel to pass through.

The tunnels get wider and easier to enter based on the environment. The built environment… but also the social environment. In the cafe the social environment was right. I wasn’t likely to be interrupted. I felt safe. I was never verbal there.

Turns out… my speech is an attention tunnel of if it’s own. At the cafe I wasn’t verbal which free’d up a thread for another tunnel.

Staying put

The lens has enabled me to build a new environment in my home which works just as well as the cafe did.

It’s the art of staying put and riding my attention tunnels. For me it came down to seating, structure, setup and spoons.


The buggy is exceptionally comfortable, but its also got a harness. The harness is magic. They harness helps me to feel safe and stay put. Because I feel safe my body is happy to stay sat down in an attention tunnel. I’m not fighting the urge to walk away.

The harness also makes me feel like I am ‘in’ one place. The buggy. The fact the buggy can be moved to other places is almost a magic trick. Apart from being useful at my desk for work stuff. It also helps at the hospital. I have been verbal and able to talk with the Drs in A&E because the buggy provided the environment to allow me to easily access my speech tunnel. It’s surreal.


The structure of my day and the pressure on me has a huge impact on my tunnels. If the environment is high pressure it crushes some of my tunnels. Oddly some tunnels have resisted pressure for years and are really strong. Those are the tunnels I enter in an emergency. It’s why I am normally good in a crisis.

The link between structure and pressure is key. It comes in many forms. The promises I make. How I think about myself. How I measure my ‘usefulness’. If I structure these things wrong then I won’t be able to tunnel.


To get into a tunnel I need the right setup. In the case of the buggy and my desk that means having all the food and drinks I need for the whole day within reach.

It’s a faff getting into and out of the buggy so i need things close by. The longer I can ‘stay put’ in the buggy the longer I can tunnel. The harness helps here. It gives me a really clear difference between ‘sat in buggy’ and ‘sat in buggy ready to tunnel’. It also makes me feel safe etc. I will blog in the future about harnesses. They are magic of the highest order.

Back to setup. Setup also means ensuring there as a few steps as possible between me and a tunnel. In the last week I’ve had enough space to leave my buggy at the desk all the time. That’s made it so much easier to get into my tunnels as I can just slip in more or less as needed.


Spoons is how I measure energy. To be capable of doing something I need to have enough ‘capacity’ (energy) for the task. This is another critical aspect for entering tunnels. I need enough energy for the whole tunnel. I need enough momentum to move all the way through a tunnel before I can enter the tunnel. It’s why having fixed energy tunnels is key. Tunnels length is measured in energy usage. Not time.

Final Thoughts

This understanding of attention tunnels and their role in my life has been critical to surviving my spinal cord injury.

The injury more or less forced me to rethink my life and my seating. It turned out that seating was the last step unneeded before I could replicate the cafe flow at home.

We’ve sorta joked for many years that if I do things in a toddlery / child like way it tends to go really well. It works with my brain. I had no idea why.

I have a better lens now. Things go well because I am using tools which enable me to enter attention tunnels. Plan the tunnels & the tasks all look after themselves.

Many people have helped over the years but I owe this understanding to Dr Dinah Murray. Dinah was one of the people who came up with monotropism. I miss her. I wish I’d been able to really understand all of this before she passed. She already had a profound impact on my life. With the new lens her work has come to redefine my life. Seek out her work. She lives on in us.


Spaced Out & Smiling is about exploring the fun side of Autism, and trying to understand what it means to be Autistically Happy.

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Jamie: @JamieKnight
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