Exploring ADHD Time Blindness: What It Is and What It Means for Classroom Behavior 

ADHD and Time Blindness

Understanding Time Blindness

Have you ever lost track of time? We all have, time is slippery.

Time flies when you’re having fun or crawls when you’re waiting in line and seems to “stand still” when scared for your life. One second can feel like one minute, January appears to last 700 days, and August feels like one long Sunday. 

Temporal awareness refers to our ability to sense the passing of time and experience the time and duration of activities. Temporal awareness is subjective and influenced by interests, emotions, and the environment.

Consider your “temporal awareness” the week after daylight savings.

OMG, no way it is only 4:30!!

Now and then, everyone’s ability to sense the passing of time can be skewed. 

However, for individuals with ADHD, skewed temporal awareness is not just now and then. Instead, they described as having “time blindness,” which is a CONSISTENT inability to stay aware of time and consider the future in the present moment. 

Dr. Russel Barkley describes ADHD as a “nearsightedness to the future.” Just like nearsighted individuals can only see items near them clearly, people with ADHD can only deal with things near them in time. They fail to perceive that time is passing, essentially blind to the interoceptive and environmental cues around them, and time slips away unnoticed.

In the world of ADHD,
” Time is Now or Not Now.”


Time Blindness in the Classroom 

Children with ADHD demonstrate specific problems with time and timing that affect performance in classroom routines, homework, classwork, and social interactions. Unfortunately, many educators misunderstand temporal challenges as willful “behaviors.” 

In the classroom, we often see students that are: 

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD
  • Chronically missing deadlines or arriving late
  • Have difficulty with work pacing, take too long, or appear to rush through work carelessly.
  • Appear incredibly impatient with difficulty waiting. 
  • Appear to procrastinate, putting everything off until the last minute. 
  • Demonstrate poor timing of action or remark.
  • Difficulty estimating how much time has passed, how long a task will take, or how much time remains before an anticipated event
  • They are constantly wasting time or “losing track” of time.
  • Difficulty planning and completing long-term projects

This post will provide school-based professionals with an understanding of time blindness from evidence and provide specific interventions to manage and mitigate the impact of impaired time-processing abilities associated with ADHD. In most situations, the struggle to feel time passing accurately will remain with the students into adulthood. 

Development of “Time Processing Ability”

Humans are not born with the functional ability to understand and use time information. “Time-processing ability is a cognitive function and develops with maturation during childhood and adolescence, starting with time perception(temporal awareness), followed by time orientation and finally time management. “(1)

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD

Temporal awareness is a mental function related to the subjective ability to feel time passing and the ability to experience time and duration of activities. Typically developing children under 5 will have only an emerging awareness of the passage of time. They understand time as a function of the activity (dinner time is before bath time).

It is not until about five years of age that a typically developing child can begin to understand events occurring in the past, the present, or the future in relation to themselves. With the maturation of nonverbal working memory, children develop the ability to form pictures of the past and anticipate and visualize the future. They begin to build temporal capacity.

Our temporal capacity is how far into the future we can visualize, anticipate and plan. The temporal capacity of a preschooler is naturally much shorter than a 20-year-old.

Temporal capacity influences our understanding of ourselves in the future. It is not until about second or third grade before a typically developing child can visualize and plan for an entire school day. We all overestimate children’s development here; expecting anyone under 10 to meet a week of expectations for a reward on Friday is surprisingly out of developmental norms.

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD

Time orientation is the ability to tell the time and know which day/month/year it is. Starting in first grade, children begin to understand clocks and calendars and identify repeated cycles (days, weeks, months) and unique times. Maturation in cognitive development leads to increasing reasoning about time dimensions (duration, sequences, etc.). Time knowledge depends mainly on an academic understanding of numbers, number lines, and estimation. With further development of time orientation, children begin to make better time judgments and time estimates as we understand time as a linear process.

Time management develops last as a higher-level cognitive executive function. Time management allows us to order events in chronological sequences and allocate the correct amount of time needed for activities. (2) 

How ADHD Impacts Time Processing Ability 

Multiple studies support that children with ADHD demonstrate difficulties in time-processing abilities compared to typically developing peers.

“Time blindness” is explained by developmental impairment in time perception, time orientation, and time management. In addition, deficits in nonverbal working memory and response inhibition (impulsivity) shorten these students’ temporal capacity or time horizon. 

Students with ADHD will place an atypically low value on delayed outcomes, whether positive or negative. Satisfaction with their immediate needs is much more valuable than their future needs because the future will be perceived as too far away if perceived at all. Without the ability to anticipate the future, behavior aims to maximize the immediate rewards and escape from immediate aversive circumstances without foresight for the delayed consequences of those actions. (Barkley) 

Time blindness wreaks havoc on the child’s ability to function and “behave” in the educational setting. Without adequately developed temporal awareness, students will struggle with work pacing, rushing, or going too slow. They will appear impatient or intolerant of waiting or appear to procrastinate and dilly dally, failing to prepare to pack up or transition to the next subject. Without the ability to sense that time is almost up, these students are genuinely side-struck when free time runs out or recess ends, contributing unnecessary emotional charge to transitions. 

School-wide positive behavioral systems will be ineffective in helping sustain motivation in these children. Students with ADHD struggle to learn from cause and effect and natural consequences. Individuals with ADHD substantially discount the value of a reward/ consequence in relation to the length of time it is delayed. The reward or consequences in the school culture are commonly too far away from this child to be effective. The timing of delivery reduces the height of the stakes. 

Shortened time horizons will make future planning incredibly challenging. Without the ability to sense passing time, time will slip away without the students using their time as effectively as their peers. Students with ADHD will need substantial support planning for time-bound projects, studying for a test looming on the horizon, and getting places in time. They will often be unprepared, late, rushed, and truly confused about what happened. These students often have unreal expectations for what they can accomplish, and their intentions and actions will not line up. 

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD

School-based therapists can support students’ performance in the classroom to mitigate the impact of time blindness and shortened temporal capacity associated with ADHD. Using a multimodal framework, therapists can design parallel interventions to educate, accommodate, scaffold, and empower learners with ADHD and their teachers. 

Managing ADHD Time Blindness with “EASE”

Education for Caregivers 

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD

ADHD is a highly misunderstood performance disorder of self-regulation and executive function. Therefore, caregiver education that clarifies common misconceptions is essential to the outcomes of the student. 

Without explicit knowledge of the temporal impact of ADHD, students fail at the altar of inappropriately designed behavioral incentives and interventions. They are criticized and judged harshly for “noncompliance” when their intentions and actions do not line up. When repeatedly late, unprepared, and off track, students are pushed to “try harder,” put more effort into being responsible, and left to struggle without a practical tool set. Students blame themselves and thus begin a self-sustaining cycle of low self-esteem, academic underachievement, and social problems. 

The most critical intervention for managing time blindness is to provide caregiver education and parent training to increase caregiver understanding of deficits in the child’s time processing abilities and how this could affect the child’s performance in the classroom. In addition, evidence supports ongoing caregiver collaboration to build capacity in modeling and implementation guidance of strategies to compensate for deficiencies in time-related skills. 

Accommodations for “Time Blindness”

To mitigate the impact of time blindness and shortened temporal capacity associated with ADHD, therapists, and teachers can provide simple and effective accommodations to the environment. 

Externally Represent Time and Time Passing

Use ANALOG Clocks 

We want to provide multiple ways for these kids to SEE time passing. These students require a visual representation of time passing in the classroom beyond the digital clock. Digital clocks present time as a present-tense thing. Digital clocks only provide the “Now.” It is 1:30. The past and future are left to implicit interpretation. Analog clocks show that time moves, old ones even ticked. Analog clocks provide a method for students to conceive of and gauge time passing. They provide a visual representation of where the students stand in relation to the rest of the hour or the rest of the day. 

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD Strategies

Mark the passage of time

Find ways to mark the passage of time: use a watch that beeps or vibrates on the hour, set alarms, or use a time timer so the student can use the visual representation of time to compensate for the lack of the temporal sensation of time.

Time Timer– The original visual timer Time Timer helps to transform stressful transition periods, reduce resistance to routines and increase their ability to manage their classrooms.

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD Tools

Smart Board Timers: Having a digital countdown on the smart board can level the time passing playing field. Time flies when you’re having fun, and transitions away from fun can be hard without a warning.

Tools for Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD

Today’s Agenda: Visual schedules and calendars are a significant part of the early education classroom because they help develop the child’s cognitive and temporal skills. However, students in later grades are assumed to have mastered these underlying skills.

Students with ADHD require structured and frequent orientation to the day, week, month, time, things coming up, how long, etc. Therefore, providing and reviewing today’s agenda and what is coming next is necessary for classroom management. 

Remove Time Gaps

A student with ADHD may have a substantially shortened temporal capacity. They will require reduced or eliminated gaps in time among the components of a behavioral contingency. The performance will be relative to the time between the event, response, and outcome. 

Tools for Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD
  • Increased rate/ frequency of feedback and reinforcement- Be sure to provide input before the student completes the practice sheet; they require feedback during the task.
  • Use immediate response and built-in reinforcers-. Reinforcers ( both positive and negative) that exist outside of the point of performance (the now) are too far in the future to effectively impact motivation. 
  • Chunking: Break down big tasks into smaller ones with time-bound accountability. Anything with more than one step is a multi-step task for students with ADHD.

Adjust for Executive Age

Reduce the length of time you expect a child with ADHD to control impulses, wait, and sustain attention before providing positive reinforcement. While a typically developing child may be able to hold their impulses together to receive extra screen time at the end of the day, the student with ADHD is set up to fail, as the carrot is dangling too far out of this student’s reach

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD

Scaffolding Support for ADHD”Time Blindness “

Students with ADHD require explicit support to see and sense the passage of time and develop strategies to compensate for poor temporal awareness. Interventions to build time awareness are much more complicated than giving the child a watch. That will only make a child aware of the time of day.

To develop an awareness of time passing students we play with time, talk about time, and make time more concrete, visual, and tangible.

Play with Feeling Time: We can develop an awareness of time passing by playing with time.

  1. Clapping hands for one minute. Have a child clap their hand or any other movement for one full minute. How did that feel? 
  2. Try clapping your hands for what you think was a minute. How long was it, actually? 
  3. Whole class: Ask participants to stand up and close their eyes. Then ask them to sit quietly (so that the other participants cannot hear them) when they think one minute has elapsed. This allows children to see how time is dependent on perception. 

Reality Testing –   Students with ADHD will need explicit teaching and structure to gain awareness of duration. As a result, they will often misjudge the amount of time an activity takes.We can systematically collect experiences of time by visualizing, documenting, and communicating how long different everyday activities take.  

Estimate and test short trips around the school, and small everyday tasks. Using time estimation/ actual time comparison- we estimate and then test our estimates with accurate data. For example, how long does it take to walk to the library from this classroom?

Create a Time Budget: Create a time budget in color code, time spent sleeping, eating, driving, at school, at sports, and leisure time to see where it all goes. A pie chart or weekly schedule can be a powerful image. 

Build a Time Bank: Students can build a time reference sheet to help students realistically gauge how long it will take to do many of their nightly responsibilities and plan accordingly. We can use concrete measures to build a scaffold to develop planning. 

Visual Models of Future Self: According to Barkley (2012), the future holds the finished product, the met goal, benefit, or consequence. Students may need an actual picture of the end product. Providing a visual model of the finished product, what the clean desk looks like, and what items to bring in the bag will compensate for the lack of visualization inherent to nonverbal working memory deficits. 

Create a Time Budget: Create a time budget in color code, time spent sleeping, eating, driving, at school, at sports, and leisure time to see where it all goes. A pie chart or weekly schedule can be a powerful image. 

  1. Done- Envisioning their goal, what will it look like when I am done? 
  2. Do: What are the steps I need to take to be done, and how long will they take? 
  3. Get Ready – What do I need to do? 

Empowering Outcomes

Time management strategies that work with children who are able to perceive time typically do not work well for children who are time-blind. By changing the methods we help students manage time, you can enable them to be more successful by developing awareness, acceptance and identifying methods to outsource.

Time Tracking Tools: Students with ADHD may need to outsource temporal awareness for life. Watches, alarms, schedules, and time timers can be introduced and used as part of life. The market is full of high-tech tools, including timers visualizing time as dots that decrease in number to show time passing, electronic day schedules with pictures, and apps for reminding and planning.

Buffers to Combat Estimation Fallacy: Estimating the length of a task or project is a multi-step process. The biggest problem is that we’re often over-optimistic regarding how long each step will take. Build in buffers. Many may need triple the time you think it will take. Multiply everything by 2. 

Identify and Plan for Slippery Activities: Identify slippery activities. These activities often result in losing the passage of time and leaving them struggling to catch up. This may include video games, television, or time on a smartphone or tablet, but there may be many others. Shape first, then rules with the child to help them manage their time more effectively. Example: first, I will do my homework because time gets slippery once I get on the tablet. 

Planner Choice: Planners are personal and not a one size fits all solution. If trialing a planner with a student, select one that has a date and time. Most work best if they can see the whole week at once and then have a big-picture monthly option. Tomorrow, if not visible after today, is processed by this learner as a date far in the future. Planners checking is more important than the planner, as it is a valuable tool if you remember to look at it. 

Out of Sight Out of Mind

Time Blindness in the Classroom ADHD

Time is an abstract invisible concept. We can not see time.

School-based practitioners can educate, accommodate, scaffold, and empower improved time-processing and daily time-management performance of our learners with ADHd.

  • Promoting caregiver understanding of the impact ADHD has on-time processing abilities will remove the negative intent bias rampant in the schools.
  • We can provide robust accommodations to the learning context that mitigate time blindness by making time external and removing time gaps. 
  • Scaffolding strategies and providing explicit instruction can improve temporal awareness and help develop systems to improve performance immediately. 
  • We can empower our learners to combat time blindness with tools that will keep time in sight and therefore in mind. 

When we make time visible, tangible, and external, we can significantly improve the classroom performance of our learners with ADHD.  💕

Tools and Resources


  1. Wennberg Birgitta Gunnel Janeslätt, Per A. Gustafsson & Anette Kjellberg (2021) Occupational performance goals and outcomes of time-related interventions for children with ADHD, Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy,28:2, 158-170, DOI:10.1080/11038128.2020.1820570

2. World Health Organization. International classification of functioning, disability and health [Elektronisk resurs] children and youth version: ICF-CY. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2007.

Wennberg B, Janeslätt G, Kjellberg A, Gustafsson PA. Effectiveness of time-related interventions in children with ADHD aged 9-15 years: a randomized controlled study. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2018 Mar;27(3):329-342. doi: 10.1007/s00787-017-1052-5. Epub 2017 Sep 27. PMID: 28956183; PMCID: PMC5852175.

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Bölte, S., Mahdi, S., Coghill, D. et al. Standardised assessment of functioning in ADHD: consensus on the ICF Core Sets for ADHD. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 27, 1261–1281 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-018-1119-y

Noreika, V., Falter, C. M., & Rubia, K. (2013). Timing deficits in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Evidence from neurocognitive and neuroimaging studies. Neuropsychologia, 51(2), 235-266. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.09.036

Steven W. Evans, Julie Sarno Owens & Nora Bunford (2014) Evidence-Based Psychosocial Treatments for Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology,43:4, 527-551, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2013.850700

Ward, S. (2016). Strategies for Improving Executive Function Skills to Plan, Organize, and Problem Solve for School Success.

Qu F, Shi X, Zhang A, Gu C. Development of Young Children’s Time Perception: Effect of Age and Emotional Localization. Front Psychol. 2021 Jun 8;12:688165. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.688165. PMID: 34168601; PMCID: PMC82176