Time Blindness and ADHD

A very common (also annoying and distressing) element of ADHD is ‘time blindness’. Adults with ADHD often have a weaker perception of time and it has been proposed that this symptom is a possible diagnostic characteristic. 

‘Time blindness’ can mean you are always late, or always way too early to avoid being late. It can also lead to poor estimates of how long a job will take, leading to ‘over-promising. Days, weeks, months can be meaningless as the inability to perceive time seems to remain as ADHD children grow into ADHD adults.

Studies on time perception and its evaluation have shown that not only do adults with ADHD have difficulties in estimating time, they may also have the feeling that time is passing by without them being able to complete tasks accurately and well. Medication has been suggested to help.

Examples of how time blindness can manifest include:

  • Over- or under-estimating how much time has passed
  • Not knowing how long a task will take
  • Not knowing which of two activities will take (or did take) longest
Time and ADHD make difficult bedfellows

To complicate things, another aspect that seems to be impaired in ADHD is ‘processing speed‘. Processing speed refers to the pace at which you are able to perceive information. Both children and adolescents with ADHD have significantly slower processing speeds. Exactly how reduced processing speed manifests itself in daily functioning is poorly understood. What it does mean is that people with ADHD might be slower than normal at tasks they are less interested in, even if they know how long it would take for someone else.

The symptoms and lifestyle of people with ADHD can make them feel ‘stuck in the present’, especially if they have impulsive ADHD. This is known as present hedonism and can lead to many difficult behaviours such as impulsive gaming and addictive use of social media.  ADHD medication seems to be beneficial in improving time blindness, and coaching can be used as an effective tool in improving executive function skills. Recognition of altered time perception in ADHD is thought to be of clinical importance and therefore healthcare professionals should ask their patients questions regarding the perception of time when investigating their behaviour and lifestyle.

The term ‘time blindness’ was actually coined specifically for ADHD young adults in the 2001 paper: Time perception and reproduction in young adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Understanding this facet of your own ADHD could be tremendously helpful to give yourself a break when frustrated with the frustrating negative effects as well as being a starting point to find coping strategies to help.

Author: James Brown PhD.

Editor: Alex Conner PhD.

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