Tendril Theory

Autism, Neurodiversity

I don’t always do crossover posts between this blog and Human Illustrations, but when I do, it’s because I drew a thing that is going viral.

I drew and shared this comic on Saturday, posted to Facebook and Tumblr. It was by far the most shared post I’ve ever created on Facebook and may edge out the Boycott Autism Speaks cartoon I posted on Tumblr.

I came up with “Tendril Theory” when someone in a support group asked for a good way to explain executive function, specifically the challenge of being interrupted or having to switch tasks suddenly, to a neurotypical person. The image and words came to me all at once. It took me a few weeks to sit down and draw it.

I think the reason this resonates with so many people is that a lot of different kinds of brains work in a similar way – not only for autistic people, but also people with ADHD, and neurotypical introverts. So if this doesn’t describe you, it probably describes someone you know.

TendrilTheory

*Image is a comic titled “Why it’s hard to switch tasks (Let’s call it Tendril Theory).” Simple line drawings illustrate the following text:

When I’m focused on something / My mind sends out a million tendrils of thought / Expands into all of the thoughts & feelings / When I need to switch tasks / I must retract all of the tendrils of my mind / This takes some time / Eventually I can shift to the new task / But when I am interrupted or must switch abruptly / It feels like all of the tendrils are being ripped out / That’s why I don’t react well / Please just give me time / To switch tasks when I’m ready.

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12 thoughts on “Tendril Theory

  1. I was looking for the place this comic came from for a while! I’m happy I found it. Mind if I use it to illustrate an example on a post I’m writing on my blog?

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  2. Thank you Erin – I used your post to explain to my mother why I got so aggro about being interrupted as a child, and she was actually able to understand!

    I have grappled my entire life with shame over my deficiencies, but the increase in conversations and awareness about autism helped me to realise that these are all classic aspects of high-functioning autism, and that I’m not alone in how I experience the world.

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  3. Erin, thank you so much for having drawn and posted it!

    I’m 50 y.o. in a southamerican country, discovering I’m in the spectrum, discovering we’re still in “baby diapers” about autism and Aspergers health resources and even professional understanding, and this may be one of the best graphic explanations of why I “think” and “behave” the way I do.

    Any chance you can translate it into Spanish?

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  4. Erin, thank you for this cartoon. I’m a computer engineer and someone posted it to our group chat this morning. It resonated with the whole team and I wanted to echo that back to you with our appreciation.

    I’ve found that many of the more successful individuals in this field are on the spectrum. Usually very highly functioning, but definitely sharing tendencies. Maybe that’s why our team was so captivated by your piece.

    But for now, I just want to say, “Thank you.”

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    1. I love that story Stephen, thank you! I can definitely see how the ability to hyper-focus would be an asset to computer engineers. Glad the cartoon was useful to your team!

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