Nov 29, 2023 | Neurodiversity

The Link Between Science, Time Blindness, and ADHD


Last week, we talked about time blindness, and offered some strategies to help. This week, we want to continue our discussion around this topic. Let’s delve into the science behind how ADHD brains work regarding time, and the importance of understanding those who struggle with time blindness.  

Science and the ADHD brain 

Individuals with ADHD typically don’t feel time the same way that neurotypical people do. For those who don’t experience time blindness, and don’t take the time or effort to understand, it often feels like a rude or purposeful action, which can lead to anger and frustration. On the other hand, those with ADHD, also experience frustration, anger, and sadness when they are not understood or felt seen and heard due to their time management capabilities. 

In an article from PsychCentral, the ADHD brain can struggle with memory, attention, and dopamine to accurately predict time. The article also explains that they can have difficulty setting their internal clock, “People with typical neurology naturally sense the rising and setting of the sun, while people with ADHD often can’t — impacting their perception of time.”  

A 2019 and 2021 review compared time perception of those with ADHD to a control group, and discovered the following challenges people with ADHD face: 

  • estimating the passage of time 
  • predicting how long a task will take 
  • retroactively assessing how much time was spent on a task 
  • planning in preparation to complete future tasks 
  • experiencing time passing more quickly than it does 

In terms of how the ADHD brain works, the reviews also discovered a blocked brain connection throughout the central nervous system (which controls how time is perceived), altered frontal lobe activity (which impacts the ability to estimate time), and “differences in the prefrontal cortex and the pathways that control dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps signal pleasure and sustain motivation” (PsychCentral). 

Therefore, in most cases, no matter how much someone with ADHD attempts to be on time, they are likely to struggle because of the way their brain functions in comparison to neurotypical brains. 

The importance of understanding time blindness 

Neurodiverse individuals want to be seen, heard, and understood. Time blindness doesn’t mean laziness, or an unwillingness to work. It is a brain difference; it is a thinking difference; it is experiencing time moving differently, or not experiencing it at all. For neurotypical individuals, it is key to understand that this is not intentional behaviour. It should be accommodated, rather than judged, penalized, or offended by. 

There is a significant amount of shame and guilt associated with being late. North American society places a considerable amount of value and prestige onto being on time, or that being on time means being fifteen minutes early. In fact, there are entire books written about how the most successful folks are always early. This is incredibly ableist, patriarchal, and rooted in tremendous privilege. 

Those who face time blindness often live with shame and guilt around not being able to function like everyone else. They also experience significant penalties in their lives and career. This could include getting written up at work for being late and/or docked pay, or being passed over for promotions because they are viewed as flippant about their jobs. It can also manifest as fines on late bills, late fees on library books, or speeding tickets for driving too fast when (dysregulated) rushing to get somewhere. The consequences compound when you consider that too many speeding tickets leads to higher insurance rates, too many late paid bills lead to bad credit ratings, and so on. The costs of ADHD are real, significant, and often hidden from public view. 

Individuals who are diagnosed ADHD and struggle with time blindness need compassion, accommodations, and support. If you would like to learn more about providing training and education in your workplace, please contact our team today. We would love to help establish an inclusive working environment for all. 

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