10 PM, Monday night, our house.
“Bedtime!” I announce as I walk into my daughter’s room to kiss her goodnight.
She’s still fully dressed and lost in a book on her bed. Even though we finished dinner four hours ago, she has done nothing since then to prepare for bed. No shower, no teeth brushed, cat not fed, clothing and various items strewn about her room— exactly as it was before dinner.
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“Oh! It’s bedtime?” (She is honestly surprised, even shocked).
“Of course it’s bedtime! It’s 10:00 pm!” I respond in annoyance.
“Oh really?! I’m sorry, I got distracted! I’ll get ready now.” Sheepishly she puts her book down and starts finding her pajamas.
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This scene plays out multiple times each week at our house. My daughter is a compliant, loving child, eager to please her parents and cares intensely for people, animals, plants, and the environment.
Table of Contents
What is ADHD time blindness?
“Time Blindness” is a common feature of ADHD. This aspect of ADHD involves a person’s inability to measure time accurately. Besides the incident I described above, time blindness can look like:
- regularly being late to events;
- not allocating enough time for a given task;
- missing meals;
- finishing assignments late/ paying bills late.
Not a choice
Before going any further, however, let’s take a moment to explain what time blindness is not. Time blindness is not a person’s immature, inconsiderate disregard of the needs and expectations of others.
Rather, time blindness arises from a person’s inability to assess their situation and what it requires as a result of their ADHD. Much like a dyslexic reader, people with ADHD face an uphill battle in learning how to understand and manage time well.
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Undoubtedly, people with ADHD can disregard their responsibility to be on-time. However, a person with ADHD requires significantly more training and intervention to keep schedules and honor deadlines. They simply don’t comprehend and manage time as well as those who don’t have ADHD.
Why and how?
Several factors contribute to time blindness. People with ADHD tend to hyperfocus on whatever they find interesting, to the exclusion of anything else. My husband has often forgotten to eat a meal when hyperfocus kicks in— it’s not until two or three hours after the regular meal time that his hunger cues outmatch his focus!
People with ADHD also struggle with transitioning from one activity or task to another. If you think about this for a moment, a person makes hundreds of transitions throughout the course of a day. I put on clothes, then brush my hair, then put on deodorant, and then find my keys. Each of these tasks requires different tools, different motions, different locations, and so on.
For neurotypical people, our minds habitually follow these tracks fairly well. For ADHD brains, every transition is an opportunity to get distracted by something novel, or the possibility of getting lost in hyperfocus on something more interesting than the mundane task you’re doing.
Furthermore, ADHDers tend to see projects as a single, massive entity, rather than many smaller tasks that make up the entire project. A multi-step project can be overwhelming to the ADHD brain; therefore they procrastinate starting, or don’t know where to start, or start and then stall out.
What can look like laziness to an uninformed observer is actually an inability to break the task into smaller, manageable chunks. If you’ve ever felt exhausted just looking at a messy toddler’s bedroom, or a mountain of laundry to fold, that’s what the ADHD brain sees: one monumental job, instead of 50 small pieces that make up the job.
The cost of ADHD time blindness
Time blindness is extremely disruptive in a family or work environment, in addition to the toll it takes on the individual with ADHD. Half of our household has an ADHD diagnosis (my husband and three of the children), so we have had to learn and use multiple interventions to help our family stay on target with time.
It’s still a work in progress, but we have had some success with different techniques, strategies, and specific products. Our next two posts will go into these with more details.
Have you or someone you love experienced time blindness? Share what that looks like for you in the comments!
© Copyright Jennifer D. Warren and Brian A. Warren