Saturday, July 6, 2013

Time Agnosia

I don't think this is an uncommon problem, but I do think it's uncommon to have a name for it.

I'm significantly time agnosiac. I say agnosiac instead of agnostic because I believe time is a thing, at least for some sense of the word thing. My brain just doesn't register its passing, or lack of passing. Five minutes? Five hours? Five days? Pssht I cannot even tell without a routine, and it's still kind of iffy.

Having no internal sense of time causes two categories of problems: the "oh god oh god I am going to be late/do not have enough time to do this" problem and the "psht whatever I have all the time in the world, oh shit how is it suddenly midnight?" problem.

I have massive, terrible, horrible, awful anxiety about the possibility of being late. It's a panic attack trigger. So I have my routines, I know how long they take, but I round up an hour. Add an hour to any projected times to do things. This means? I am always early. Or almost always early. The busses don't always cooperate. But I am so worried about being late that I am instead ridiculously, obscenely early. This is awkward if showing up at someone's apartment or to meet them for dinner at the restaurant or whatever, but it's better than being late. Anything is better than being late. If I schedule an hour to get ready, an hour for each bus...then I will be on time. I can take a book or crocheting or a notebook for drafting blog posts or schoolwork on the bus and for the wait, at least I am not late.

Not helping this particular anxiety? I was always late as a child because I have too much time urgency whereas my mother figured that on time is for other people. I can't feel time and have always been profoundly aware of that deficit when it effects how a schedule is going to play out.

The other problem with time agnosia is that time just kind of runs away from me. Did I spend an hour, or ten minutes, or six hours doing a thing? Wait, why is it 1 AM? I don't know. Alarms startle me so they're not my first choice. Instead to mark time, I use music:

-I listen to Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog to mark chores. It has problematic elements, which I am aware of and dislike. It's the right length & the right level of engaging (not very, songs aren't too difficult to sing with while doing something else) for my purposes.

-I have several CDs or mixes that I listen to while winding down online or doing my schoolwork, so I know that however many hours have passed. If it's on repeat, I am doing it wrong-the purpose is to know when it's been 2 hours, or 90 minutes, or whatever.

-On my ipod I have several playlists that mark how long it takes to get certain places, with the added bonus of shifting my mindset a bit.

Time pieces? Are not as awesome as I thought they'd be. I tried wearing a watch and not only did they keep dying, but I'd also keep checking at what I thought were similar intervals and they...uh...weren't. That did not help the whole "anxious about time" thing. I set my alarm on my phone for one time things and set it on vibrate, and do check my phone for time if there's a reason to, but wearing it on my wrist just makes me more anxious since it seems like such a capricious arbitrary contraption.

Time: it's a mystery. But I cope.


  1. Such a great post, so well-written... you really "took me there". :) Its interesting timing for me as Im working on helping my daughter, who is trhee, understand the concept of today, tomorrow, yesterday, etc, with some visuals like calenders, visual schedules, etc. Were not rushing her just trying to give her some more tools. Thanks for this insight!

  2. I have this too. I call it Time Agnostic because I'm not so sure. I think time might be made up, because DST/Standard Time seems a leeeettttlleee bit shady to me.

    My watch is special issue and has markers and e-z set alarms, and I have a visual alarm on my iPod called "Autism Timer" (hehe) which, despite the kind of hilarious name does not time my Autism, but is very useful in lectures. I can see, and it does not make noise, fractional aspects of green, yellow and then red, that I set theoretically, knowing how much time things are supposed to take, so that it becomes irrelevant whether I can feel the duration fly by.

    Whether I have faith in the feeling of duration, I know my students and colleagues have this faith, and I do have deep respect faiths of all kinds.

    Another makeshift thing I do when estimating how long something takes, or trying to understand an unscheduled schedule, is think about this rubric: Baseball games are longer than movies. Then comes movies. Then comes cop shows. Then comes sitcoms. Then comes commercials.

    This helps with my job because graduate courses are about as long as baseball games, but undergrad courses are like cop shows, and a conference presentation is usually half a sitcom sans commercials. If you are talking about the time it takes in a commercial, you can say "Be right back," but not if it is going to be as long as a sitcom. This is sort of my calculus. I don't feel it but I think it through-- sometimes, in a dire emergency of getting it right, by playing actual exemplars in my head for the duration. This helps me because these things tend always to have a followable structure and get recorded into my ears.

  3. I absolutely looove your idea of using CDs or playlist to mark time. Brilliant! !!! My son ignores timers and cute alarms, I snooze before you know it, 45 minutes has passed and we haven't moved. I could absolutely see the music approach working, though. I'm imagining myself saying, "time for school in one 'Dynamite' and a 'Party Rockers!'
    And Ibby- I totally measured time in TV shows when I was a kid. It makes perfect sense.

  4. You're so right. You ARE like my child. He's 12, and the idea of being late to school had him so freaked out that every morning used to send him into an anxiety attack even before we'd left the house. Since getting me out of the door early isn't possible (my own quirks can no more be 'fixed' than his can or should!), we ended up putting a specific accommodation into his IEP that says that if he's late to school, he does NOT have to go to the office to sign in, but can go directly to class, while I sign him in. Please note: He has never, not once, been late to school. But being able to tell him/show him that he won't be in 'trouble' and won't have to talk to strangers if it does happen made all the difference!

    Also, it may sound silly to you, but this totally just helped me put something into perspective: All along, I've been telling speech therapists and the like that he has one particularly odd pragmatics issue, and that is that he can't seem to 'get' time references right when he speaks. So he'll tell you that we did something yesterday when he means six months or two years ago, or even that we're GOING to do it next week! And he'll also say, "I never did ----- before!" when what he means is that he hasn't done it TODAY, though he probably did it yesterday. Until I read this, it didn't even OCCUR to me that it could be because he literally doesn't experience time in a 'pragmatic' way! I am definitely going to have to look into this more closely...

  5. TC, right on... I have to say, I'm a professor at this point in life, and frequently still say things like, "See you tomorrow! [pause, noticing people smiling and giggling indulgently]... And by 'tomorrow,' I mean, 'next week'." My students find it amusing and it does not stop me from being able to do my job at all; they still completely trust me to teach them and I get great evals. (Part of this may be that I am not purporting to teach them how to tell time hehe.) So as long as your son does not decide to be a Calendar Interpreter of some kind, we really DO do OK :). Especially with understanding loved ones xxoo

  6. I have a great sense of time. I haven't worn a watch in ages, but always have a sense of what time it is. Still, for me, time itself has little meaning. I mean, there is "now," but everything else is also "now." I tend to live in "flow" instead of "time." At least I prefer it that way. Time has always seemed to be a strange concept to me and I didn't realize that the way I thought about it was different than (most) everyone else until I was an adult. Of course, that's like most Aspie things, I thought everyone was like this. Then I realized they weren't. Now that was an interesting "time."