Do Autistic People Experience Time Differently Than Neurotypicals?
OK, this is a hypothesis, but I’m fairly convinced it’s true for many autistic people based on my experiences, studies, and conversations with others on the spectrum.
I truly believe that autistic people have a different concept of time from their neurotypical counterparts for the following reasons:
1) We don’t seem to have to “reconnect” with someone we’ve been out of touch with for a long time. We’ll just pick up where we left off as though nothing has changed!
2) We can suddenly understand a concept or the meaning of a phrase months or even years after someone tried to explain something, and when we have that “Aha!” moment, we will tell you very excitedly right away even though you’ll have NO idea what we are talking about or even why we REMEMBER what some NTs might consider a “trivial” exchange.
“That was a long time ago. Why are you bringing that up now?”
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The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.
Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).
Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:
3) We will often be months or even years off about when an event occurred OR we will be startlingly exact. For example, we may genuinely think something happened years ago when only a few months have gone by, or think something happened a week ago that happened last year OR, we will be able to tell you that we went to a concert on April 18th, 1997, and somebody tripped and fell into the aisle at exactly 10:45 PM.
4) When we are absorbed in a task we are passionate about, we will not even realize the sun has gone down and we are now sitting in the dark! We may suddenly realize that we are hungry and thirsty and REALLY need to pee, but we literally don’t know where the time went!
I think there are others ways this manifests, too, and I think it can be a stumbling block in ND to NT communication in many ways.
Neurodiverse people, do you experience this? Neurotypical people, have you noticed the autistic person in your life appears to perceive time differently than you do?
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lol! Hi, Nat. Thank you for your enthusiasm!
YES. Absolutely. Do you also have trouble with seeing where things are in the future, so that somebody tells you “we’re going to the beach on Saturday” and when Saturday comes the beach trip surprises you like a slap in the face? I try to explain this to people as my timeline being wavy rather than straight. I can file memories and future plans at the right place on the line, storing that beach trip at the point marked Saturday, but when I’m standing at Today I can’t really understand how close/far Saturday is – I know how many hours away it is, but my actual perception is distorted. Dates are lost among folds and waves that distort how near they seem. Then, suddenly, the waves shift as my friends come to pick me up and that trip is suddenly HERE and it takes me so much by surprise that I can’t change modes fast enough to socialise while dealing with shock while being torn out of what I was doing while preparing to be in public while berating myself for having a messy perception of time. In short, time is like a wavy tape measure: I can find the point marked 30cm, but I can’t see it as being 10cm away from the 20 mark.
I’m not sure I experience it exactly this way, but I think I know what you mean. Thank you for sharing this.
1&2: I suspect that this is why I get so frustrated by social apps and the like, that erase all content older than some threshold. NTs may think this way but I do not. I contend that most data of interest reaches deeply into the past. Why stop thinking about something just because it happened a long time ago?
I fear that society misses a lot by focusing exclusively on the present.
Yes. Yes. Yes. See, I know when stuff happens, I have a calendar all laid out in my head…but it does not ‘click’ with reality. My ‘present’ is separate from the calendar in my head. I know intellectually what day of what month of what year it is, and with a clock, I know the time. But it doesn’t click. It remains separate from reality.
I think this is a perfect way of describing it!
This is so f*ing true. I literally have no concept of how much times has passed. I usually talk about things that just happend, only to be told that they happend months or years ago. I also can’t remember what happend 5 years ago, while this 5 years are only 48 hours in “normal time” 😀