Difficulty Understanding Time

Developmental Considerations

Time is an abstract concept that takes time for all children to understand. Often preschool children struggle with the concept of time, and typically developing children may gain this understanding during their elementary school years. For individuals with FASD, this development may be delayed, and in fact daily activities associated with effective time awareness and time management may be lifelong challenges for individuals with FASD. For instance, transitions may be very difficult for an individual who does not have a clear concept of when an activity will be starting or ending. Frequent reminders about time related activities may be important for supporting success. Within adolescent and adult ages, individuals with FASD may need extra assistance planning, remembering, and getting ready for appointments and time dependent activities. Timers, stopwatches, and alarms are helpful tools for keeping someone with FASD on time. Working with individuals with FASD to develop the best system for planning and organizing their days, and embedding reminders may support development of strategies that are the best fit for any given individual.

For people with FASD, difficulties understanding time may reflect impairments in abstract thinking (see executive function) or visual spatial awareness (in the case of non-digital clocks).  Even though an individual may be able to read the numbers on a clock, this does not mean that they understand what that means. Similarly they may struggle to estimate how much time is passed, and may be surprised by how much (or little) time has commenced since they began an activity. Recognizing that missed appointments, lateness, or other time related difficulties may not reflect lack of interest, motivation or respect, can help to offset feelings of frustration and creates opportunities to develop meaningful systems of support that respond to the underlying area of need for the individual.

An increased understanding of time may lead to easier transitions between activities for a child with FASD. With a better understanding of time, independence in adolescence and adulthood may be easier reached. Learning comes quickly when using time in conversations by describing how long some activities take, associate specific times of the day with events (breakfast, start of school, lunch, and end of school). As time understanding may always be an area of difficulty, supplementing learning opportunities with development of meaningful supports with the individual may help to best facilitate skill growth and mitigate frustration or misinterpretation of behaviour. Using visual timers and analog clocks instead of digital for a better understanding of continuous time.


Motivation and Learning
Video presentation by Nathan Ory on strategies to motivate learning (from POPFASD). This video provides a motivational strategy for individuals who have trouble with time concepts (starts at the 5:32 mark).

Understanding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): A Comprehensive Guide For Pre-K -8 Educators
FASD overview, teaching and learning strategies for the classroom (Written by Chandra D. Zieff, M.Ed. and Rochelle D. Schwartz-Bloom, Ph.D.)
Difficulty understanding time: pp. 62-65

Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Building Strengths, Creating Hope (Programming for Students with Special Needs: Book 10)
Overview of FASD; Concepts for teaching and strategies to help with learning needs (from Alberta Education)
Teaching time concepts: pp. 32-33