Wellness & Education

ADHD and “Time-Blindness”

Boy distracted at desk in class

Asking someone how they sense the passage of time is a bit like asking a goldfish to talk about water. Most of us do it without thinking about it, and we assume that everyone else does the same thing. When people are chronically late or take three times as long as we do in the shower, we assume that they are either rude or lazy. This could be the case, or the person could be suffering from “time blindness”, an informal term for difficulty sensing the passage of time.

Symptoms of “Time Blindness”

Symptoms of “time blindness” include:

  • Being abnormally prone to losing track of time.
  • A seeming lack of ability to estimate how long a specific task will take.
  • Difficulties accepting being “out of time”, even when a hard deadline has passed.
  • Often having the sense that “If it’s not now, it’s never”. This can cause patients to have a very hard time waiting, leading to frustration and impatience.

“Time Blindness” and ADHD

Scientists tell us that our ability to sense the passage of time is affected by, among other things:

  • our impulse control
  • our ability to concentrate
  • a disruption of dopamine signaling in the brain

Attention deficit disorder, which interferes with all three of these factors, is one of the most common causes of time blindness. In fact, the term “time blindness” was first used in an article describing symptoms of ADHD. Time Blindness and ADHD – Focus: The Online Adult ADHD Magazine (focusmag.uk)

“Time blindness” itself is one most baffling symptoms of ADHD. It is also one of the symptoms most likely to interfere with a patient’s ability to “fit in” and succeed at school and at work. Like many of the other symptoms of ADHD, “Time blindness” is often labeled as a character defect rather than the result of a neuro-genetic disorder. This can be very traumatic for those who are “time blind”. They are often accused of being lazy, or irresponsible, and disrespectful of others. Behaviors associated with “time blindness” include:

  • Procrastination
  • Chronic lateness
  • Missed deadlines
  • Underestimating or overestimating how long a task took the last time it was done, making it difficult to estimate how long it will take to do it next time.
  • Difficulty prioritizing the order of a sequence of tasks
  • Being unaware of, or underestimating, the passage of time

Managing “Time Blindness”

While there is no cure for “time blindness”, ADHAD medications can help. There are also steps patients can take to help manage it: ADHD Time Blindness: How to Detect It & Regain Control Over Time – ADDA – Attention Deficit Disorder Association

  • Identify where and how the condition is causing the biggest problems. This helps patients figure out which problems to attack first.
  • Use sensory stimulus to measure time. This can include: pairing playlists of specific lengths of time with specific tasks (such as having a “shower playlist), “installing a “time timer” clock with a shrinking color block that shows time remaining or wearing a watch with an advanced multi-alarm system.
  • Divide large tasks with single long-term deadlines into multiple smaller tasks with short-term deadlines.
  • Choose a career field that is intensely interesting to the patient. This will improve focus and concentration.
  • Choose a career field that does not include a lot of time-dependent tasks and schedules.
  • Hire an ADHD coach to help with time management.

Children and ADHD-Related “Time Blindness”

Raising children with ADHD can be challenging on many levels. Parents have to help their children manage symptoms of ADHD while they, themselves, try to manage the expectations of others. Friends and relatives may have little understanding of ADHD. They may blame both the child and the parents for ADHD-related behaviors. Parents have to balance helping their children adjust to the “real world” of deadlines and schedules while protecting them from unrealistic expectations and giving them a rewarding and secure childhood.

It’s often easier to deal with difficult behaviors if we understand the causes. This is especially true for parents of children with ADHD. If a child’s perceived “dawdling” and “melt downs” stem from an underlying health issue, it’s a little easier to understand the need for patience.