Autistic Cycling

Cycling.  All people on the autism spectrum do it; some more noticeably than others.  No one knows what causes it; there’s seemingly no rhyme or reason to when it happens.  But when it does, the autistic seems to regress.  In my case, I can become extremely irritable, lose my ability to concentrate, have the reasoning skills of someone much younger, and I don’t sleep well.  Other autistics show different symptoms, since we’re all different.  One thing I’m sure of, thanks to talking to my younger brother (who is also on the spectrum), is that none of us like the cycling process.  We lose abilities we’ve learned to rely on, we don’t feel normal, and interacting with others is harder than usual.  For one thing, we might come across as having below average intelligence even though we have above average IQs.  Simple tasks take a lot more thought than usual, and distraction is a constant problem.

Each episode of cycling can last from a day or two to a couple of weeks.  There is no cure for it other than time and patience on the part of everyone around the autistic.  Cycling is hard on everyone.  Parents wonder how to help their children through the difficulties they’re having, but there’s nothing they can do.  It can be frightening to see your child lose abilities they had the day before.  It’s just as difficult to know they can succeed at things, but during the cycling process they’re as helpless as they were when they were years younger.

The good news is, cycling doesn’t happen regularly, like once a month or every two months, and it does eventually end.  The bad news is, cycling is unpredictable.  It can happen every month or it can happen once every couple of years.  There’s no way to schedule activities and trips around when the autistic cycles.  It’s a hit or miss occurrence that leaves everyone guessing when it will happen again.  Eventually, it becomes an accepted part of life just as autism is a part of life.


6 thoughts on “Autistic Cycling

  1. Thank you for this post. We are going through a cycle right now with my son and I’ve been desperate for some understanding.

    When you are in one of these cycles, is there anything that can be done to make you feel at all better? What is it that you need the most? Is there ANYTHING I can do for my son? Do you have any idea what sets you into one of these cycles? He’s having such a hard time right now and I want to help him. I just don’t know how.

    1. About all you can do is be patient and understanding. These days I have the advantage of knowing that the cycle will eventually end. When I was younger, however, it felt like nothing would ever get back to normal and that I would always be at the lower functioning level. Reassurance from my mom helped sometimes, but other times it frustrated me more because I thought she didn’t understand. It all depended on my mood, and thankfully my mom didn’t take my angry words personally. She knows when I’m going through one of these cycles my mood is unpredictable, but she also knows I’ll even out again eventually.

      I wish I could give you better advice than be patient, but what helps one autistic may irritate another. If you can, try asking your son what he thinks might help. At the very least, it will let him know you care and that you’re trying to understand what’s going in inside him. Also, remember that you’re not the only one who has been through this. Cycling is a part of life with autism, and I’m sure most parents of autistics have dealt with the helpless feeling of watching their children suffer through a cycle and knowing there’s really nothing they can do but be supportive and wait for the cycle to end.

  2. This is really good info! Thank you for sharing! Have you found that any interventions (coping strategies, medications, etc.) have been helpful in helping with either the severity or the duration of the cycles when they arrive?

    1. The most helpful thing I’ve found is to remember that the cycle isn’t permanent and it’s not my fault that my functioning level drops. Without the added stress of blaming myself for something I can’t control, I’m better able to handle the frustration of not being normal. I haven’t found anything that lessens the severity or duration of my cycling, but learning to just go with the flow and essentially take life at a slower/easier pace than usual makes the time pass more quickly.

  3. I felt so relieved when I read your post. I live in a small town without a lot of resources regarding ASD and I though my son was the only one who cycled. You mentioned that cycles don’t usually last for months but I swear my son’s do. He’ll seem to hit a peak (he’s 4 years old), where he’s functioning at a very high level, learning quickly and catching up to his peers then he’ll lose that edge and slowly regress until I find a new therapy to introduce. After a couple weekly session, he turns around and begins improving. He’s cycled 4 times since he was diagnosed 2 years ago (each lasting about 6 months, peak to peak). The therapies we’ve done are hippotherapy, swing therapy, craniosacral massage, and neurofeedback. Each only worked to “reverse” one cycle then became ineffective. I’m running out of new therapies and he’s on his way back down. I’m afraid just to wait for the cycle to complete on it’s own for fear that it won’t.

    Have you heard of anything like our situation?

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