We take for granted our understanding of time. However, different cultures can have a different understanding of what time is and how it works. Not only different cultures might understand time in different ways, autistic people can do that too. Understanding HFA time can be challenging, since HFA time could mean “no time at all.” My Vulcan understands time as “no time,” so let me explain it using the world of comics.
In the world of comics time and space are the same. Time can vary as much as seconds or a million years in just what might look similar sequences. You can have dinosaurs in one panel, and then a car in the next one. The reader can interpret a quick pace of time in this sequence. You could also have a dinosaur looking left in one panel, and then the same dinosaur smiling in the next. In this case, we could assume that some seconds have elapsed. In comics, time is vague, and so it is for autistic people.
What if time was as vague as it is with comics? What if you had no real sense of time? What if there were no time at all for you? My Vulcan does not understand time as I do. In fact, he has no “inner clock” whatsoever inside him. Usually, neurotypical people have “inner clocks” that tell them, more or less, how much time it takes to do certain activities, or how much time has elapsed since they started doing something. They do that without taking any look at their watches. Some autistic people have problems with that: there is no “inner clock” whatsoever!
Some autistic people can spend hours doing a certain task, like putting on some makeup. It can go astray, taking them, literally, ages to finish the task. So, something as simple as putting some makeup on could take hours. Some autistic people might also loose track of time staring at walls (or so it seems to neurotypicals). They have entered into an “alternate” reality in which we cannot connect. In that state, time freezes for them, but not for the real world. Time goes at its pace. They just don’t get it.
My Vulcan can be extremely fast, like the Flash, or extremely slow sometimes. The funny thing about his “no time” issue is that he can meet people years after and greet them like if it was yesterday. Since in his head there is no time at all, he can easily loose track of “what day is today” and “when I was doing a certain activity last time.” On a daily basis it can be tricky too: he used to loose hours and he didn’t know where he did spend his time. Sometimes it would be programming, sometimes it would be a mystery. Sometimes he would be too fast doing stuff and get incredibly tired.
My Vulcan understands time in the same way comics work. And since there is no conversion chart whatsoever to translate “comics time” into “neurotypical time” matching both can be an impossible mission! He can go from one panel to another in light speed, or as slow as a turtle. And that was making him (and me, I won’t lie about that) literally nuts. Fortunately, we found a solution: technology.
Technology can provide a great help for autistic people who are having a hard time getting things done. It might be annoying at times, but it works. My Vulcan happens to be a nerd, and since he loves technology, applying technology further into his life wasn’t an issue. However, if you are a neurotypical and want to give this advice to your Vulcan, well, prepare yourself to embrace technology. You have to give up something from your part, dear neurotypical. It is the only way your Vulcan will be happier and less stressed when he/she realizes that has lost several hours into thin air.
Here is a list to manage “comics time” and adapting it into “real-life time”:
- Set on an alarm into your smartphone (and/or computer) that will sound every half an hour. It looks really annoying right? Well, it works! Remember: Vulcans have no “inner clock,” so it is really hard for them to track time in a natural way. But if the computer does, it will only notify them that half an hour has gone by. It will also help them focus as well. If for some reason they have started to wander into their inner world, then the alarm will bring them back. And let’s face it: this is also a good technique for neurotipicals too. You can set it to tell you the time every hour. If you work in front of a computer all day, this could be the mark for you to do a 5 minute work out, or go and take a short walk, or go to the loo. It can be very useful!
- Set your calendar on the cloud and set reminders for whatever appointments/ dates to remember you have. I know, this is starting to look more and more like a shark-businessman schedule than a normal person one. But, it works. Since there is no time, this is a way to track special dates to remember. Odds are that your Vulcan will find birthdays and dates like illogical stuff, so the provabilities for him to remember the day will be close to zero. Cloud schedules will help not only with those “illogical dates,” but also every day with whatever other “illogical tasks” they might want of have to perform. This also works magic for neurotypicals. We can forget appointments too, and even really important dates. So consider to use it as well.
- Do not get angry with your Vulcan if he/she lost track of time. This is very important. The last thing you want is your sweetheart to shut down or to be extra-stressed because of something he/she cannot understand. My Vulcan’s brain is simply wired in a different way. I could spend my whole life trying to explain to him how my “inner clock” works so that he can understand time; or I could try to explain why I love so much to celebrate Xmas… but that would be totally useless. Let’s be practical and nice. My Vulcan is a sweetie since he will celebrate with me all the “illogical dates on the calendar” that make me happy. So, if he cannot get it with time, be nice and do not get angry with him/her.
- Use lists. I recommended this in another post, but it is really helpful for Vulcans: lists are really gods from heaven, not only regarding to organizing yourself, but also for keeping a nice schedule “on time.” My Vulcan loves an app called Evernote. In fact, he was the one to introduce me into the world of Evernote. It is really useful, and can help you heaps, specially if you are autistic. You can also go for the not-so-fashionable list-with-magnet on the fridge. I use those too. In fact, we have lists for everything: from presents to what to put into your bag if you go on holidays. Lists can help your Vulcan with daily tasks, monthly tasks, or even what presents to choose for you for those “illogical dates” that make you so “illogically” happy.
Every Vulcan is different. Mine has HFA and he is really nerdy. These small tips work for him. They might work for your Vulcan as well (or not, it depends on where in the autism spectrum he/she is located). But you can give it a try. It could change things a lot for you.
For us these tiny tricks have helped us into transforming what was an issue into a super power. Remember that I told you that from one panel to the next in a sequence there can elapse millions of years or seconds? Well, if my Vulcan is focused, he can be like the Flash: literally.
When he is focused and into a friendly environment he can be the Flash. I don’t know how he does it, but he gets things done in light speed. However, when he is not focused, he can be like Barry Allen before becoming the Flash: always late! It also helped him into figuring out when he is tired. Since he has alexithymia he does not know when he is tired or not. And that’s a hell of an issue! (Unless you are a boss, own a company and want an asset that will work during hours straight without complaining till he dies from exhaustion…) I remember, while in Japan, my Vulcan worked on a techie marathon without sleeping at all during three days for “the company.” He was so exhausted (without knowing) that he collapsed on the bed and looked like dead… Needless to say: he slept during what looked like an eternity (he even had fever)! And I also I remember another time when we were supposed to go “for a short walk” and we ended up walking around 50 km… My feet were like Hobbit feet, and so were his… He only didn’t notice that little detail! (I was dying from exhaustion and Hobbit feet pain, but at the time he gave me the look of “you need to get stronger”). When he was diagnosed, all these “funny episodes that look like taken from a comic book” started to make sense. And believe it or not, the tips above helped him to stop working (or stop studying, or stop walking till Ragnarok) before he collapsed from exhaustion.
So, these little tricks have helped us in managing “comics time” and also his superpowers. All superheroes have limits. And so do Vulcans. If yours still doesn’t know and has not tried them, you can suggest him/her so. It might work. The essential key here is to be patient and be willing to try what look like as “silly annoying measures.”
Note: my Vulcan has HFA. These tips work for him, but since autism is such a wide spectrum, these might not be useful for you case. However, you never loose anything just for trying.
Image source: (image at the top) Understanding Comics.