My friend Henry’s room can be a disorienting experience. He’s an artist; his room doubles as his studio, and it’s in a basement. Natural light is limited and the space is littered with canvases, half-finished projects, and framed illustrations waiting to be hung.
While a cluttered workspace is common for creatives (hell, my office/bedroom looks like it’s inhabited by monkeys), what makes Henry’s studio unique is the constant warbling of various alarms. One reminds him to eat. Another to take a break. A third to check his phone for any messages that need responding to.
Henry is autistic, and the alarms help him manage his time.
Why Do Autistic People Struggle With Time Management
A common autistic stereotype states that autistic people constantly seek structure in everything. There’s a grain of truth to this but many of us are terrible at creating the structure we crave.
The reasons for this are legion. Most revolve around struggles with Executive Functioning. Often, we find things like sequential planning (performing a task in a step-by-step manner) and forethought (predicting things before they happen), difficult.
I often run late, forget important dates, appointments, and events. My sleep schedule’s inconsistent.
The Five Tips
Below, I’ve compiled a list of five tips autistic adults I spoke to have used to manage their time more efficiently. Hopefully, these will also help you and the autistic person(s) in your life.
Most of us are visual learners. Seeing the tasks we’re supposed to be performing or location we’re supposed to be traveling to, not only jogs our memories but also erases some of the anxiety caused by uncertainty. Visuals give us a mental picture of what to expect.
Resources like illustrated “to-do” lists are a tried and true way to increase competent time management and decrease anxiety among autistic people.
Visuals do, however, take a significant commitment of time and effort to both create, and then implement. While the rewards can be vast, busy parents might find consistent use of visuals to be difficult.
2. Daily Planners
This is a more Neurotypical method of time management, but some teen and adult autistics find it effective. Writing things down step-by-step takes away the stress of having to juggle those steps around in our brains.
Like Henry discovered, alarms have the potential to help keep us on schedule. Autistic people often become so absorbed in a task, we lose track of time. Alarms can snap us back to reality.
The drawback is obvious: alarms irritating. No one enjoys being woken in the morning by their alarm clock. Certainly, no one wants to hear them periodically.
Some autistics even suffer from Hyperacusis (ultra-sensitive hearing). For them, listening to blaring alarms all day would be akin to torture.
4. Weekday and Weekend Schedules
Weekends were always rough for me. I didn’t have school (as a kid) or work (as a young adult), so my schedule would be different from the weekday one. Autistics don’t like change.
Stacy Badon, Principal Communication and Sensory Enrichment Coach for Autism360 recommends helping your autistic loved one create separate schedules for weekdays and weekends. This presumably gives them up to five days to mentally prepare for the changes.
5. Practice and Patience
None of us learned how to tie our shoes or feed ourselves, or potty trained in one day. Like any other life skill, time management requires practice and patience from all involved in order to foster proficiency.