“One must work with time and not against it.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
Time Blindness or Distorted Time Perception
I am so exhausted fighting with time. I know that sounds funny, but I fight with time about as much as I fight with trying to spell words correctly. That is a lot.
I was reading some of the latest research on additional (challenges, experiences, not typical behaviors) dyslexics can have and I stumbled on a whole topic; Time Blindness. Time blindness, this is a condition in which a person cannot accurately estimate the amount of time that has passed or that it will take to do something. It is associated with the cerebellum part of the brain. One of the defining symptoms, while not completely understood, involves time perception.
For neuro diverse adults, this is an important topic that could be affecting every aspect of their life and they might not even know it. Remember being dyslexic didn’t stop just because you got out of school. Someone’s neuro differences continue to impact them in many ways that can be detrimental to a healthy life and successful career. If you are neuro diverse, your brain is with you forever and it is about time you start learning as much as you can about it.
Common symptoms of or signs someone might have time blindness as an adult:
- Being late for meetings, work, picking up the kids, any and most appointments
- Cooking and mostly burning food
- Having a spouse that is always fighting with you to get out the door to be somewhere on time
- Over book your calendar – don’t include drive time
- Are always running late
- Multi-tasking to an extreme
- Not completing projects on time
- Missing a meeting and appointments all together
- Feeling exhausted and like you can never get ahead
- Losing jobs because of tardiness and being reprimanded
- Late paying bills
Time blindness is a big deal. It has real causes in the brain: much like a color blind person perceives color differently. We wouldn’t assume a color blind person simply doesn’t care enough about distinguishing red from green. Neither should you assume a person with time blindness doesn’t care enough to manage time properly.
If you are wondering why you have never heard of this before it is because it is something that was only recently discovered and it is in part thanks to the dementia researchers for figuring this out. The medical term is called Dyschronometria. This can be from a trauma, or by disease, or genetics.
As this pertains to dyslexics, I share this right off the wiki website.
“An interesting case of dyschronometria (time blindness) has to do with dyslexia. When dyslexia was studied within children, it was found that dyslexic children were often stressed as well as mentally exhausted. These children would place little to no importance on their present state, a behavior that would continue into adulthood. It remains unclear as to whether dyslexia is a symptom of dyschronometria, a cause, or both.”
Meaning we are still learning about this, so remember to check back every year to see what might be new in the research.
Something else that factors into this conversation is the fact that it is most common for dyslexics to have short-term memory difficulties and that contributes to the symptoms of time blindness. They have also found a close connection with people who are dyscalculic (a brain difference that affects math and number sequences).
For some people the time blindness can be to the point of not understanding the days of the week and morning and evening.
Now that they are able to identify this in people and especially if they are able to identify it early in someone’s childhood, they are able to implement other learning systems that are “learning different” to build up this understanding and skill. That said, it doesn’t mean that everyone’s brain is able to relearn this information in a new area.
There was a small research study in 1993 that had some defining points.
“The analysis indicated that the dyslexic children tended to be far more outer and inner-directed with regard to their time allocations and generally perceived time as a linking of past, present, and future events.” summary article
Let’s talk about time
A good sense of time is part of executive function. It involves knowing what time it is now, how much time is left, and how quickly time is passing. People who are “time blind” often struggle to use time effectively.
Time management has a term “time horizon.” This is essentially how far you can look into the future to plan ahead. Kids are an hour and it grows as you grow. People with time blindness often have shorter time horizons than do neurotypical people.
A little FYI the UK is one of the more advanced countries integrating accommodations for the neuro different into their work training. I found this article from the UK about dyschronometria and dyslexics.
“For most sufferers from time-blindness, the ultimate cause of their problem is genetic: they are either dyslexic or, more likely, dyscalculic. What this means in practical terms is that they are likely to have short-term memory difficulties and, if dyscalculic, no intuitive understanding of number sequences. This is a highly problematic situation, for living with time-blindness is as troublesome as living with an inability to read or to do basic maths. It cuts you off from the daily events of life, and leaves you dependent on others to ensure that you get to the right place at the right time.”
AD/HD and time blindness
Time blindness is also a term coined and used in the AD/HD community and we know that 30% or more of dyslexics also have been diagnosed with AD/HD. Dr. Ari Tuckman, a Pennsylvania-based psychologist who specializes in ADHD and was the first to really talk about it.
This is a great video I found that explains it the best I have ever heard from Dr. Russell Barkley.
Dr. Barkley had a couple of statements that stood out to me as it pertains to time blindness.
This is about the AD/HD and the brain.
“In a single sentence what is the purpose of the frontal lobe to humans? It is to organize behavior across time in anticipation of what is coming at you.”
This is a summary of time blindness for some with ADHD.
“Just as people who are nearsighted can only read things close at hand,” Dr. Barkley continued, “people with ADHD can only deal with things near in time.” “Nearsightedness to the future.”
Things to try
o Start to become aware of things that suck you in and really cause you to lose track of time.
o I don’t mean just any time and I don’t mean just one. There are so many different types and you can place them all over your space.
o Not just one, not just two and not just from one source. You might need many from a bunch of directions. See my article on 4 time blind people having a meeting. 4 Time Blind People Have A Meeting | Solutions By JoyGenea
o Enlist the help of others. Coworkers, friends, spouses and family members.
o Time blindness gets worse for most people when anxiety gets sprinkled onto a situation. There are some simple steps you can take in daily things to help reduce that.
– Pack your lunch the night before.
– Lay your cloths out the night before.
– Write out your schedule (uses a different part of your brain) the night before.
– Have everything you need for your scheduled day ready and in a back by the door or in the car the night before.
Small action steps
o The smaller the action step the easier it can be to manage. Break things down into the smallest steps.
Add in drive time
o When you schedule something on your calendar, then schedule another event for the time it will take you to get ready and get to the scheduled event. Don’t forget to also add in the return time.
o Plan the things you can do when you get there early.
Fact check your time estimates
o When it comes to travel time, check an app to see the exact time and add five minutes extra for every thirty minutes of drive time. (travel time in minutes/30 = X; X times 5 + travel time = total time you need to add into your schedule)
Hire long term planning
o If long term planning is not your gift, find a good financial planner, accountant, mechanic and others to assist you with your long term planning. You don’t need to do this alone.
When symptoms get even worse
The symptoms of time blindness can be exacerbated when we have sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, are intoxicated, high, or anything that might impact how we process the world.
They have also found that grief can make time blindness even worse. That is what made learning about this right now so helpful. I am in the first year of having lost my father and my time blindness at times has been the worst that I have ever experienced. I have missed whole appointments, even with three types of reminders, sticky notes and my husband texting me. I just felt so stupid and yet there was nothing more I could do to fight it. I was trying as hard as I could.
There is no exact testing for this at this time. It is a fairly new term and will need more research as this part of the brain has not been studied as much. I think that it has a better chance of being understood since it is also associated with dementia and there is a lot of funding these days being pushed towards research on that. I like to be optimistic.
To put this into context
I don’t think any of this is “NEW” to the brain or the world. I think that as society becomes more literate, the people implementing literacy to the masses (neuro standard) need a label as to why they aren’t like the people teaching all of us to be literate. I don’t think that time blindness was an issue for a pioneer, fur tradesman, or farmer. They lived in the now. Food, housing, sleep and staying alive. All very present at the moment. Perfect for a person with time blindness.
I, like anyone reading this, was born into a world and culture where literacy and all the things that go with it are a measure of worth and success. My being dyslexic and having time blindness doesn’t cause me to fit in that society easily. I have been working at this my whole life. I am thrilled when the neurotypical help to find out why I am not like them, because then I stop feeling so stupid, dumb and inferior. This was the neurochemistry I was given for this life and while I fall short in other areas, I help to fill in the gap for the neurotypical in other aspects of life. I can see we are a team and I am grateful for all of the people working to continue the learning on these types of topics.
In the month since I learned about time blindness I have been doing a lot of research in an effort to understand myself more and I recommend that you do the same thing which is why I am attaching the links in the bottom of my blog post to all of the places I researched for this article.
What I know now that I didn’t know then.
- I know that I have a degree of time blindness.
- I know that it has affected all aspects of my life from marriages, jobs, dating, friendships and ability to connect with people. Many of my biggest life decisions have come down to this issue.
- I have some PTSD from the abuse I have received from other peoples attacks on me for not being like them.
- I know that I have shamed, guilted and belittled people for their time blindness, because I didn’t know that it wasn’t personal and on purpose.
- I now know that my mom didn’t forget me in places on purpose and I can forgive her and all of the pain that it causes to feel abandoned.
- I know that for me to be as successful in society and reduce the amount of stress in my life, I need to prepare things the day before.
- I know that sharing this with the people closest to me has been huge for all of us. They are noticing ways that it affects my life, helping me notice the time and evening helping in the preparation. The more they understood it the more they stopped taking my behaviors as personal.
- I know that I need to be accountable to my actions. While I may ask for accommodations and understanding from others, it is also my job to do my best to be on time and respectful to them.
- I know that I want to learn more about how this works into a job environment and how that is being implemented.
If you are wondering what works best for me? Let me be clear that I am a 3.5 on the spectrum on time blindness. I can blend in mostly well into the neurotypical world on most things. Since I also know people that are seven & eights, I know compared to them I am lucky and this is easier for me.
I have to take time to outline my schedule on Sundays for the whole week on my daily planner sheets:
- Project hours
- Tasks that need to get done on that day
- Email response times
- Preparing my food the night before
- Preparing my clothing the night before
And when my brain is struggling because of stress or poor food choices I am at my worst and I have to implement all of the tools I know work for me. I have created this system from years of trial and error. Thank goodness for technology, I have no idea how I would have done this back in the 70’s well.
JoyGenea’s personal emergency system to fight time blindness:
- Talking clocks
- Timers that count backwards
- Oven timers in another part of the house
- Amazon Alexa
- Google reminders
What I love about understanding this better is that I get to continue to grow and teach my clients about this. This is what it means to be a neuro diverse adult. You don’t come with a manual and you need to build that manual as you go. For some people their parents are on the neuro spectrum and have taught them the tools and tricks to get to their super powers. For others they might be the first in the family to get noticed and diagnosed. “They are building the plane as it is in flight” as they learn more about neurodiversity. They are just starting to find the wording to explain what it is like to be an adult with neuro differences. Being a guide and support for others is amazing. I get to watch people transform every day, just by learning who they are, what they need and how to achieve their goals.
Until next time
Fun little fact. Did you know that dyslexia was once called word blindness?
*Special thanks to CHADD and Additude magazine for their good articles on this and the fine people that bring information together on Wikipedia.
BONUS – Covid and Time Blindness
How COVID19 affected people with time blindness was also very telling. Typical daily markers, like school buses driving by or hanging with friends on the weekend. The line between days, weekends and time all got blurred in a way that had never happened before. It was noted that people struggled even more with the perception and engagement of time.