Visual timers help children with autism at Mindstretch Preschool
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Visual Timers for Children with Autism

Time is an abstract concept, difficult to pin down and describe, and impossible to touch or feel. Our children with autism can struggle with it. Visual Timers help with this challenge at Mindstretch Preschool.

Children with Autism may have 'No Idea of Time'

Children with autism often have problems with how they perceive and understand time. A 2021 study titled “No Idea of Time” identified three areas of difficulty for children with autism:

  1. They struggle with the concept of time — learning about time, how to tell the time from a clock, and time-related words like hours and minutes.
  2. They think about the future differently, including preparing for upcoming events and future related thoughts. Planning and working under time pressure can be a problem.
  3. They often have strong interests that take a lot of attention. Worrying about having sufficient time for their interests causes anxiety.

What Time Disconnects can Look Like

Being unaware of time and its passing may cause difficulty when a child must move from one activity to another. The child who is oblivious of time may be taken by surprise when their half hour playing with a train set runs out. Engrossed in this favoured activity it may feel like seconds passed, but then without warning someone demands they switch to doing something less interesting. Similarly, if they don’t much enjoy the task they’re doing, they have a reassuring visual reminder that it will end in time!

Visual Timers Help Our Children with Autism

Visual timers reassure and help our children complete their classroom tasks

At Mindstretch we’ve found that a visual reminder of time lapsing can help our learners on the autism spectrum complete time-sensitive activities. We use Visual Timers that feature a red disk on an analogue clock that gets smaller as time lapses.

For those who learn visually (many children on the spectrum are visual learners) these timers let them need to ‘see’ the passage of time.

Digital timers and visual or sound prompts can also help. Indeed, parents of all children often use visual timer apps to limit their children’s screen time. Voice prompts or pictures show how time is moving on, and an alarm may ping when the time limit is reached.

Free Time is Essential

But don’t forget free time! There are many instances where time should be irrelevant. Switching off timers for weekend cuddles and snuggles, and other special moments, will show your children it’s okay to lose themselves in the wonder of life. 

Children need unstructured play and rest periods free from the constraints of time. Make time for these magical moments.

Children need unstructured time to explore their world

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