ADHD Time "Blindness" isn't what you think it is!
Changing our clocks twice each year is probably one of the least favorite past-times for many of us.
It throws off our sleep schedules.
More accidents happen (not just car accidents!).
With how much the impacts cost us, I'm constantly blown away that the people who make these decisions haven't repealed it!
To be perfectly honest, as someone who's ADHD, my relationship with time is already a bit skewed.
If clocks weren't so useful in so many scenarios… To be honest? I kinda wish we didn't need clocks at all.
Dr. Russel Barkley's popular (and somewhat inaccurate) term for this very different ADHD relationship with time is "Time Blindness".
What is ADHD Time Blindness?
“Time Blindness” succinctly captures how an ADHD person's experience of time awareness & time management appears to external observers. This can often look like…
An inability or difficulty to sense time
Difficulty estimating things like…
“How long with this take?”
“Where do you see yourself in 3 to 5 years?"
For those of us who experience ADHD Time "Blindness”? The way we experience time “in the moment” is mostly binary:
“Now” vs. “Not Now”
“Now” only lasts about 4 seconds. ADHD or not, we’ve all had experiences where that 4 seconds FELT either non-existent, or like an eternity.
All humans have variable experiences of time. However, ADHD & other neurodivergent1 folks have a less predictable relationship with time. The experience of time is often highly inconsistent, highly variable, and frequently beyond the ability of the person to control.
THE ADHD RELATIONSHIP TO PAST & FUTURE
(aka “Not Now”)
Because this experience of time can be so unpredictable, we also frequently struggle with Evaluating, Anticipating, &/or Predicting the…
Duration of tasks & events
Temporal distance between events
Recognizing the arrival &/or passing of a specific instance in time– from moment to moment, day to day, etc – can also be a real challenge.
It’s always Now.
It’s never Not now.
Now never changes.
However, what’s happening right Now does…
As things change in “the Now”, we frequently struggle to notice the transition between when an upcoming event changes from Not Now to Now. Even if we try to notice time passing.
We tend to do better with noticing changes in relationships between things, changes to our environment, and/or episodic changes vs. time on a clock.
But what causes this strange relationship with time?
What things combine to create our perception of time?
✭ Executive Functions
How ADHD's Differences in Executive Functions Can Alter Our Perception of Time
"Normal” brains usually develop a full staff of Executive Functions3. These continue to develop until around our mid-twenties. ADHD Brains develop these Executive Functions very differently. We tend to have far fewer & much weaker switches and controls for our Executive Functions.
This has cascading impacts on how our brains wire over time. From an early age, the ways our Executive Functions develop differently also impact our Working Memory & Emotional Regulation.
As you can see in the graphic above, Memory & Emotion have significant influence on our perception & felt experience of time.
Memory + Emotion + Executive Functions combine to create our perception of time: Past, Present, & Future.
Memory stores & accesses memories from the past & imagines the future.
Emotion colors our perception of Memory.
Executive Functions organize and manage everything so that it makes coherent sense.
There’s also the matter of Neurotransmitters.
Dopamine & Norepinephrine (Adrenaline) also have significant impacts on our perception of time. While scientists are still unclear on *how* these impacts perception of time, it’s clear that they do.
Of course, the clinical hallmarks of ADHD include:
✅ Dysregulation of Dopamine & Norepinephrine
✅ Executive Dysfunctions
✅ Emotional Dysregulation
✅ Working Memory Dysfunction
Basically all the neurological systems that create our experience of time are impacted.
This means that many ADHD people experience more frequent disruptions, inconsistencies, &/or variability in their perception & experience of time, compared to non-neurodivergent people.
In other words…
For ADHD people, time-wimey is much more wibbly-wobbly.
Synchronous vs. Syncopation
As if all of that’s not enough, other research shows, that if any of the above mentioned systems get out of sync with each other, it also messes with our sense of time.
On the other hand, Sychrony among the systems creates Coherence in time perception.
Ah… Sweet Synchrony.
However, since all these systems already experience dysregulation, I’d expect that ADHD brains tend to have a high rate of disruption in the communication between our time-perception-related systems. Although, I couldn’t find research on ADHD brains to confirm.
As a side note: Since writing my original Twitter thread on Time Blindness…. I've grown to prefer thinking of our differently synced ADHD brains as dancing to a different beat. For my ADHD music nerds out there: our brains tend to thrive better with syncopated beats, counterpuntal rhythms, & tight (sometimes dissonant) harmonies amongst our neurons & neuronal networks. Or, at least we thrive better, when we reach a place of acceptance about our differences. But I digress…
Is “Time Blindness” really the best term?
It’s certainly not true that we don’t perceive or experience time.
It’s just different.
The systems that impact our perception & experience of time are more frequently & easily disrupted for ADHD,
Our experience of time is often much more varied & inconsistent. We really can’t predict how long a stretch of time will feel.
Sometimes, we can even struggle to estimate how long it will take us to do something we’ve done a million times.
Time is Variable & Unpredictable.
By now you’re probably thinking,
“Knowing all of this is informative and all… But I’m 18 GIFs deep in this article! Where TF is that sweet Synchrony?”
Welp… Part I lays the foundations.
What comes next? Emotions are a huge key to managing our experience of time. If you don't want to wait for the next blog post, you can always join us in the ART of ADHD Community.
Last month, for ADHD Awareness Month, October 2021, we did a 3-part series of workshops on ADHD & Emotions.
Part 3 was on ADHD Emotions, Time, & Productivity.
Parts 1 & 2 were on ADHD Emotions & Awareness and ADHD Emotions & Relationships.
We've made all three recordings & workbooks available to the community.
Time & Productivity
In case you missed it, this is what the ART in ART of ADHD stands for.
Not interested in a community of wonderful ADHD Adults who get you, because we're ADHD too? That's okay.
But if you have any lingering questions about ADHD, and you'd like to meet me & my lovely wife, and ask us any questions about ADHD…
I hope you were able to enjoy an extra hour of sleep during the time change this weekend!
Resources To Dive Deeper
with Translating ADHD.
To help you get a handle on your own ADHD relationship with time, start with this episode. Then listen to the four episodes after this one.
an excellent ADHD Workbook by René Brooks (Black Girl Lost Keys)
Here’s an incredible, entertaining, & informative video about…
How our current way of measuring time came to be
What this has to do with the movement of the earth
A bajillion things to satisfy your curiosity button
from the Simons Foundation
on Sean Carroll’s Mindscape podcast
This is a fascinating episode on the affects that language, thought, & space (i.e. spatiality) affect our perception & experience of time.
@CaraSantaMaria & the hosts of the @SkepticsGuide #podcast talk with a neuroscientist about our experience & perception of time. Brilliant & fascinating! Segment occurs between timestamps: 40:56 & 52:20
Terms like "neurodivergent”, "neurovariant", etc are often used by folks whose brains are wired differently. It's a simple, inclusive way to mention of these folks at once (like ADHD, Autistic, Dyslexic, OCD, etc.)
I made this Mind Map for Time Perception & Experience to help me gather my thoughts, when I had a spontaneous urge to write a Twitter Thread about this over a year ago. It's actually rooted in real research. Just check out the other resources above the footnotes.
Executive Functions are kind of like the automated Virtual Assistants or Executive Assistants of the brain. They're used to filter, sort, organize, & plan - both for cognition and for sensory experiences. For ADHD people these work differently. If you imagine the "typical” brain as a party, the Executive Functions are the Bouncers, the Bar Tender, the PR Agent, the Accountant, the Staff Manager.. pretty much all the staff. ADHD Brains have a few less staff than a skeleton crew. And not every ADHD Brain has the same staff members. One might have a bouncer or two, and a bar tender. Another might have a staff manager, and some wait staff, but no bouncer or bar tender. Think about how the party or club would run differently without key staff members. And the staff that are there are rarely enough to handle the crowd.