Children With ADHD And Time Blindness

I am beginning to understand that my son does not see the passage of time as linearly as I do. This is an overview of time blindness and how it effects children with ADHD.

Children With ADHD And Time Blindness

“When is my birthday?”

I looked at my son, a little concerned. He answers this question every single time he sees a doctor or gets a blood test.

“It’s in December, Honey,” I answered, wondering what was going on.

“No, when is it?” he responded, clearly getting frustrated with my lack of understanding.

“Do you mean how long is it until your birthday?” I asked.

When he nodded, I answered, “It’s at the end of the year. You have nine months still to go.”

“But when is that?” he demanded, now showing signs of increasing stress and irritation.

Not knowing how to answer, I took him over to the wall calendar and turned the pages as he counted.

“I’m not a baby! You always treat me like I’m a toddler,” he said, furious.

“I’m just trying to answer your question,” I said with a little bit of anger and a whole lot of discouragement.

“I guess you can’t,” he replied, giving up.

We had this conversation last month. We have had many more like it since then.

He asks questions about the days of the week, how long an hour really is, when the year will change and how long that will be.

Slowly, but surely, I am beginning to understand that my son does not see the passage of time as linearly as I do. Moreover, his questions have to do with how long these time frames “feel” as opposed to their existence on a calendar.

At his age, I am astounded at how difficult learning the basics of the calendar and time progression has been for him. He did it in circle time at his preschool. He reviewed it every day with his brother and me as we homeschooled in the early years. He has his own planner than we use to track his days and tasks.

And still, he struggles with keeping track of time.

Children With ADHD And Their Perception Of Time

Children With ADHD And Time Perception

Desperate to figure out how to help him, I started to do a little research.

Apparently, this calendar and time gap is common in children with learning differences, particularly those with ADHD.

In fact, this symptom has a name – Time Blindness.

From there, I started digging in deeper.

I was amazed at what I found. (How come no one ever talks about this part in all the therapies and appointments?)

Time perception is a difference associated with ADHD brain function. It exists throughout childhood and adulthood and is a real thing.

What Time Blindness Means For Your Child With ADHD

The term “Time Blindness” is new to me, but is a symptom generally agreed to be part of an ADHD diagnosis.

Time blindness is the inability to sense the passing of time and it can make nearly every aspect of a person’s life more difficult. The important thing to understand is that it’s more like a sensory issue, not an intentional disregard for time.

Very Well Mind

Moreover, children with ADHD tend to have an alteration in their ability to discriminate and estimate time intervals.

So when my son is asking me how long an hour is, or how long until his birthday, he is really asking me how long that will feel like, not how many minutes or months will pass.

The measurements we use for time are essentially meaningless to him. 

Activities To Help Your Child With Time Blindness

I decided to try a few activities that would address these difficulties and help my son feel a little more confident in his ability to perceive time. My goal in these exercises was to connect our calendar to the activities he enjoys, and give him a chance to “feel” time pass from one activity to the next.

Children With ADHD And Their Perception Of Time

Activity #1 – Month To Month Progression

In this activity, I created a months of the year template using white construction paper and markers. After folding two piece of the large white paper into six equal squares, I labeled the months of the year and also wrote the number of days in each month.

On the last day of the month, I am scheduling a special outing or event for us to enjoy. In March, it was an Easter Egg hunt. In April, we are planning a trip to the zoo. For each of the events, all year-long, we will take a picture and print it. Then, we will put the picture up on the month in which it occurred.

My hope is that over time, he will be able to look back and “feel” how long it’s been from on month to the next, using the special activities and events as time markers.

Activity #2 – Days Of The Week Progression

This was a super easy, but effective activity for my sweet boy. We took sidewalk chalk and drew rectangles with names of the days in them. I was careful to start on a day other than Sunday, because he clearly knows the Happy Days song and uses it to determine how the days of the week progress.

The problem with using this song is that he feels the need to start at Sunday every single time he is trying to figure out how many days until Friday (even if it’s Wednesday).  To help combat this, we started our days of the week hopscotch at Thursday and drew enough squares to get us to the following Thursday.

After we had our week all set up, I started asking him questions like the ones he asks me every day.

How many days until the weekend?

Which day is the one that we have bug class?

When are we heading to the pet store?

He threw a sensory toy onto the day that the event was scheduled. Then he hopped from the current day to the sensory toy, counting as he went.

This helped him “feel” the progression of the days. It also was a lot more fun than the usual conversation we have standing in front of our wall calendar!

Children With ADHD And Their Perception Of Time

Overall, I feel like I am just scratching the surface of this learning difference with my son. I am sure I will learn more as time goes on, but in the meantime, I wanted to share this information and some easy, practical exercises in the hopes that they might help you and yours!

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  1. Thankyou for giving me the name of something that is seemingly minor but adds so much frustration to our day! Neither of my kiddos grasp how time works. For shorter times (under 2/3 hours,) we measure time in tv shows. 10 min = 1 Bliey episode. 30 min = a wild kratt episode. 1hr=2 wild kratts. This seems to be the only effective way they can measure how long time “feels.” Thanks for the practical suggestions for working on longer periods.

  2. I have ADHD and I do this! I can never remember what day of the month it is, or sometimes the month at all. For example: I think it’s March instead of August! It doesn’t help that in California the seasons are mostly the same. Thanks for doing the research on this, it really helps.

  3. Thank you! I had no idea there was even a name for this! My son (now 19) still struggles & I’ve never really known how to describe or define it for anyone. I am so thankful for you sharing!

  4. Time Blindness is very real and can be very frustrating! My husband, myself, and our 8 year old son are all ADHD and autistic. We all struggle with time blindness on a daily basis. It makes it difficult to tell how long to plan for a task, or how much time has passed while you were working on a task. We never know what day it is without looking at our phone or calendar. Middle of August and I was still thinking we were in April at the beginning of summer…to the point that seeing “back to school” items at the store had me thoroughly confused for a few minutes. The struggle is real! Good job momma on trying to understand it and help your son with it!

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