Sensory Series – Chronoception

Introduction to Chronoception


Of all the senses I have discussed, this is perhaps the one that it is most difficult to find information on. We know, from anecdotes and from certain symptoms of different conditions, that our perception of time can be altered.

Difficulties with perceiving time, knowing how much time has passed, and even when now is, are all things that appear within conditions such as Alzheimer’s and depression. In fact, much of the research on chronoception and conditions/disorders/illnesses is into the perception of time in those with depression. There’s also anecdotal evidence of how medication and other drugs can affect a person’s inability to perceive time. Chronoception is even referenced in a common English expression: “Time flies when you’re having fun.”

So we know that it is possible to perceive time differently, what does this mean in autism? Well, it’s difficult to answer that because there really is very little information looking into the relationship. Anecdotally there are accounts from autistic people and their families about not being able to perceive time properly and how this impacts upon their lives, but the reality is it can be difficult to differentiate difficulties with chronoception from other things like processing delay.

The kinds of things that you might see in someone who is having difficulty with chronoception include:

  • A long delay between saying they will do something/being asked to do something and actually doing it.
  • Frequent complaints of things taking too long or going by too fast.
  • High levels of anxiety over not being able to get everything done.
  • Never seems to complete what they set out to do.
  • Difficulty placing events in time.
  • Confuse events from yesterday with events from many months or years previously.
  • High levels of stress due to “time getting away from them”.
  • Despondent due to time seeming to go on forever.
  • Difficulty or high levels of inaccuracy in reporting lengths of time or experiences of time.
  • No concept of time or time related words such as later, before, after, tomorrow, yesterday.

As you’ve glanced over that list you’ve no doubt seen things that could just as easily be explained by executive dysfunction, or by processing delay, or by something else entirely. I think this is why chronoception is so under researched in autism, because it’s so difficult to separate it from other things. What is important to remember that the possibility of perceiving time differently can exist, and for an autistic person who perceived the world differently anyway it can be a confusing phenomenon to deal with.

Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.

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