Not like riding a bike

There’s that saying “It’s like riding a bike!” which means

Said of skill that, once learned, is never forgotten.

Why does that saying exist? I imagine that for neurotypical people, many skills that they learn tend to work like that. You learn it once and then you never really have to learn it from the beginning again? Or maybe, you need to brush up on that particularly skill a little bit but then it comes back to you quite quickly and easily.

I have experienced that second possibility a few times, but generally remembering how to do something is not like riding a bike for me. I know I’m not alone in this experience. I’ve seen it happen with my Autistic son, and I’ve heard that it happens to other Autistic people too.

A lot of my skills are use it or lose it things, and when I say lose it, I really mean lost and gone forever unless I’m willing to teach myself the entire skill again. This year has been particularly trying for me because I’ve been very low on my ability to get things done so I’ll give you a couple of examples of things that I’ve had to relearn:

I withdrew from the first trimester of university (yes, I know, academic trimesters are weird but that’s the way my university structures their year). That was the right decision to make at the time because if I had continued to push myself, I have little doubt that I would have ended up fully burnt out, but it did have repercussions this trimester. I had to relearn how to read academic text, how to write grammatically correct sentences using proper words, and how to listen during lectures.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to completely relearn to read, but I did have to figure out strategies of paying attention for long enough to read an entire academic sentence and then attach meaning to the sentence as a whole. Trust me, it’s not fun. University is sort of structured so that the first year eases you into the second but all my units are 300-level units so I’m expected to already have all those basic skills.

My son and I lived mainly on takeaways and raw food that we can snack on (fruit, nuts, biscuits, cereal, etc.) while I recovered some of my spoons, so I had to teach myself how to cook again. Yay for the internet! Finding recipes with explicit step-by-step instructions and attached shopping lists has been the way in which I’ve relearned to cook.

That’s just two things, but there are more. I suppose if I had never stopped doing them, I wouldn’t have had to relearn them, but being autistic means that there are times when my executive functioning and my ability to do let me down. Being autistic means that there are times when I have to reduce my activity level or risk burn out. So, that means that I will forget skills and I will have to relearn to do things.

It can be annoying and frustrating, but I still wouldn’t change being autistic because I love the way my brain works. I love the way that even though I have to relearn a skill, my brain has that ability to problem solve in unconventional ways.