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How Can I Help a Child with Autism Understand the Concept of Time?

Posted by Christen Barbercheck on


For children with cognitive differences, time perception can be a challenge.  

Many of us take time for granted, having become so used to the system of seconds, minutes, and hours, as well as their typical symbolic representation on traditional clock-hand clocks, or as numbers on our phone. When we look at the top right of our phone or laptop screen and check the time, we tend to immediately “understand” what, say, 1:30 PM means.  

We will not launch into a deep discussion about the philosophy of time here, but we could easily say that time perception is indeed subjective in many ways. To understand what we mean, just think of the phrase “Time flies when you are having fun.” Or, think of, say, doing a bunch of paperwork, which can make seconds feel like hours, and you will feel the truth in the idea that time perception can be subjective.  

Just as fun and boredom can alter how we experience seconds and minutes and hours, so can confusion and anxiety, which are common feelings that children with autism feel when having to deal with a time-sensitive task.  

Why Individuals with Autism Struggle with Time Perception 

An individual with autism sometimes struggles when it comes to telling time because of their learning differences in areas such as working memory or planning, making it hard to remember passing durations during a given interval.  

In addition to the above-mentioned problems that individuals with autism face in time perception, they also typically have multitasking issues, which can make it doubly hard to perform a task that requires you to have a precise idea of just “how long” is passing. 

A reduced ability to recreate time intervals is one of the key setbacks here, so being able to easily remember when you began a task, and how long it has been since starting, is something that a useful time-telling tool or strategy will offer for a child with autism.  

One way to do this is to help children with autism visualize time passing, which we will go into below.  


Visualizing Time: How the Time Timer Can Help a Child with Autism’s Time Perception 

Being able to immediately “feel” time is something very valuable for a child with autism, who struggles with the task of having to mentally grasp just what it means for five minutes to pass. We here at Time Timer have just the tool for accomplishing that.  

What makes the Time Timer visual timer such a success with a child with autism is its visual representation of time with our patented red disk that elapses as the set time, which in the Time Timer Original 8” allows for up to an hour, the red disk like a fraction that represents time.  

When a child with autism sees just how much of the red disk has elapsed since starting, they can readily feel “how much” time has passed and is left in the activity. It is a visual communication that is not told in the language of numbers and digits but rather in a more immediate and universally-understandable symbol, where less work is needed to remember “how much” time has passed in each interval.  

However, we also have Time Timer products that cover other durations of time. For example, our Time Timer PLUS can go up to 120 minutes, and is additional more portable for children on the move.  

Children with autism can also have a Time Timer visual timer readily available everywhere they go with the Time Timer Watch, which not only tells the time in a visual way, but offers a Time Timer that is digitally represented and can be set up to 99 minutes, along with a timed alert feature.  

The Best Time-Telling Tool for Children with Autism  

Our Time Timer visual timer is the best time-telling tool for individuals with autism, which is a claim that has been recognized by many professionals and organizations involved in the autism community, such as the Autism Awareness Center 


For more uses of the Time Timer in special needs, click here.  

If you are interested in other Time Timer visual timers, check out our page for them here.  

Any other questions? Be sure to contact us if so!  


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