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I was a “three-sport athlete” in high school, (soccer, baseball, track and field). I use quotation marks because I sucked at all three. Not only was I overweight, but I also possessed the coordination of a tortoise tripping on LSD. My biggest challenge however, was Cognitive Processing Delay.

What Are Cognitive Processing Delays?

CPD is a catch-all term used to describe struggles many neurodivergent individuals have processing incoming information (words, sounds, feelings, smells, movement, etc.) and turning that information around as outgoing reactions (answering questions, sequencing, problem solving, holding attention, etc.).

In layman’s terms, people with neurological conditions such as Autism and ADHD might experience delays when responding to their environment.

What Can CPD Look Like?

Here are some (but certainly not all) examples of CPD. 

  • Taking longer than expected to answer questions
  • Struggles to maintain attention for long periods of time. (For example, I’m struggling to focus on writing this article)
  • Struggles to write, speak, or communicate coherently
  • Trouble remembering sequential (step-by-step) things, such as directions
  • Trouble learning or being overwhelmed from learning new skills sets


What CPD looks like in Autism


What Has CPD Looked Like in My Life?

The reason I mentioned my star-crossed high school athletic career is because that is where CPD presented itself in my life most acutely. The rapid–often unexpected–movements of numerous players, ball tracking, and frequent shifts in field position were a nightmare for me to process and respond to in a timely manner.

Can CPD Be Treated?

The short answer is “no.” Autistics aren’t computers. You can’t just add RAM to make us think faster. (Though that would be cool)! 

The long answer, though, is “yes.” 

While we can’t be quicker, we can become more efficient. For parents and caregivers, that means limiting the amount of stimuli we have to process at any one time. 

Too many uncomfortable sensory inputs (bright lights, loud noises, unpleasant smells, busy environments) can crowd out room for other, more basic cognitive processes like responding to our names and following directions.

Bird By Bird

When author Anne Lamott published Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, a stalwart in university English classes, she shared a vignette about the origin of the book title. 

When her little brother was ten-years-old, he was tasked with writing a report on birds. Like most people, he procrastinated until the night before, then, broke down when he realized how thoroughly screwed he was. His father, seeing his son’s distress, told him to take it “bird by bird” instead of focusing on the enormity of the project.

Autistic people overwhelm easily. Delays in cognitive processing require us to take things bird by bird.

Patience and Planning

Two words that will often appear on this site are “patience” and “planning.” The practice of these two words is a must for autistic parents, caregivers, teachers, and therapists, as well as for autistics themselves. When it comes to CPD, we need patience in order to sort things out, and we need planning to reduce the number of inputs we need to sort out.

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