Dyslexia, ADHD, Autism and Time

Dyslexia, ADHD, Autism and Time

It is easy to take time for granted. When we’re young, we have more than we know what to do with. Like our beating heart, time ticks away every minute of every hour of every day. Is it no wonder that in our daily lives, we give very little attention to our relationship with time and our perception of time.

It may surprise many that how we perceive time can vary just as much as how we perceive visual and auditory information. This can particularly true for dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic persons.

time managementWhile some folks have a very good perspective of the passage of time, dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic persons may have significant difficulty. While some folks have no trouble keeping track of time, dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic persons may be habitually late or struggle to be on time.

And, finally, while some persons have no difficulty organizing their time, dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic persons may struggle with managing simple projects.

Perceiving the Passage of time

There seem to be two basic perceptions of time. The first is to be dissociated from time—as if they are standing outside of time.

Like persons riding in a car with the windows open, these persons naturally feel the passage of time. We sometimes refer to these folks as, “through-time”, people as they perceive themselves as passing through time.

Conversely, the second perception is to be associated into time—as if they are looking at time from the inside.

Like persons riding in plane window shades closed, these persons are being carried along inside the car with no feeling of passage of time. We sometimes refer to these folks as, “in-time”, people because their perception is as if they were inside of time, itself.

Keeping Track of time

As you can imagine, through-time folks will tend to naturally keep track of time. They intuitively know when 5 minutes have passed… or 20 minutes… or two hours.

This relationship to time has definite advantages. Through-time people are rarely late for meetings. They don’t forget about appointments. They don’t worry about being on time; they simply are on time.

Unfortunately for in-time folks, simply being on time can be a constant struggle. Five minutes can seem like two hours and vice versa. We may be habitually late for appointments or may forget about them altogether. In any case, we will often find ourselves loosing track of time and may experience considerable stress related to the passage of time and/or keeping track of time.

Organizing time

Once again, it would appear that the advantage falls to the though-time people. The perception of time as a linear phenomenon, combined with the dissociated perception of time, makes the task of organizing and planning projects, goals, and life, comparatively easy.

Through-time folks are far more likely to plan their careers, maintain savings and retirement accounts, and, generally speaking, be far less impulsive that in-time folks.

Unfortunately, in-time folks time may perceive time as a tangled ball of string with themselves inside the ball. They may perceive the past, present, and all future events all happening at the same time.

This can make organizing one’s life, not to mention, long-term planning, extremely difficult. Because in-time people can perceive everything happening at once, they can become overwhelmed by events or tasks that, in reality are NOT happening at the same time.


A familiar example for parents is when you ask a through-time child to clean their room. First, they perceive making their bed… then putting their clothes away… then organizing their books…  and, finally, picking up their Legos.

But the in-time child perceives making the bed, putting away their clothes, organizing their books, AND picking up their Legos all occurring AT THE SAME TIME. This non-linear perception can lead to feeling overwhelmed, panic and even meltdown.

So, the through-time parent or teacher can’t even imagine why the in-time child is stressed or in meltdown when from their point of view, the child has plenty of time to complete the task or assignment.

Some obvious examples of in-time persons are Albert Einstein, Steven Hawking, and Richard Feynman.

Albert Einstein imagined riding on a beam of light and how that ride would effect his perception of time.

Steven Hawking imagined sitting on the event horizon of a black hole and how a black hole would first expand and then contract over time.

Feynman DiagramRichard Feynman imagined virtual particles forming, separating, and reforming as if time they were flowing forwards and backwards in time.

If you haven’t already guessed, most dyslexics, ADHD, and autistics are in-time persons. While being in-time can be a source of creativity and inventiveness, it can also be a source of considerable stress and anxiety.

The last issue is what steps can we take to support our dyslexic, ADHD, and Autistic persons. The first thing is to realize that they/we do have a very different perception of time and the passage of time.

The second thing is, especially with children, to break down projects into manageable tasks and to assist them in visualizing one… task… at… a… time.

The third thing is to be vigilant with respect to time-related stress. It helps to manage expectations with calendars and clocks. Timers/alarms can help children and adults relax knowing that the timer will let them know when they can stop working or when that next meeting will begin.

With respect to students, The Neuro-linguistic Learning Center has developed specific strategies for managing projects such as essays, homework, and household chores. We’ve developed organization strategies for addressing in-time struggles with math and test-taking. You can find these strategies in many of our parent support materials and on-line program.

  • Tags: adhd, anxiety, autism, Dyslexia, homework, math, project management, time, time managememnt

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