I am beginning to understand that my son does not see the passage of time as linearly as I do. I am learning so much about children with ADHD and their perception of time.
“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.
He is twelve. 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 lacks an understanding of time.
Children With ADHD And Time Perception
Desperate to figure out how to help him, I started to do a little research. I started with other moms on Facebook (because moms know more than any other source in my experience) and they echoed the same thing.
Apparently, this calendar and time gap is common in children with learning differences, particularly those with ADHD.
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.
Here is a summary of what scientists found after studying adults with ADHD.
“People with ADHD perceive time, not as a sequence of events the way others usually do, but as a diffuse collection of events that are viscerally connected to the people, activities, and emotions that fill them. The person with ADHD focuses intensely on all of the related details, experiencing these events with all of their interconnected-ness. Slotting events into their proper place in time is a challenge. This simple difference in the experience of time can profoundly affect life.”
It even has a name – Time Blindness.
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.
52 Weeks Of Easy For Mom Activities
For this week’s Friday Fun-Day, 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.
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!
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!