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Helping Autistic Children Understand the Concept of Time

Helping Autistic Children Understand the Concept of Time

For most of us, time concepts are second nature. But for those who struggle with the passage of time, planning, organizing, or structuring their day can be a challenge. It’s crucial to pay attention to these three concepts. By helping autistic children understand the concept of time, you’re equipping them with valuable life skills.

Let’s break it down. Today means right now, this very moment, or the current day. Yesterday refers to the day before today, and tomorrow is the day after. It might seem a bit confusing for children with autism, so let’s see how you can make it easier for them to understand.

Make it visual

If your child understands the concepts of ‘before’ and ‘after,’ it may be easier for them to understand ‘today,’ ‘yesterday,’ and ‘tomorrow.’ Let’s focus on today first. 

Take out the calendar. Put a green X on today. Today is Monday. Explain what you will do today: “Today, we get dressed, have breakfast, pack our backpacks with school supplies, and head to school.” That will be today.

Put a red X on yesterday.  Have your individual think about what they did yesterday.  It was not a school day.  We slept in.  We watched some TV before getting ready for the day.  Perhaps they went to church or visited their grandparents. That was yesterday.

Now, have them look to the day after today. Ask them what day that is. It is tomorrow, Tuesday. Yes, it is another school day. 

Make it visual

Create a list for better organization

You could teach them to make a list of things to do on a particular day. These might be actions they must take, events they need to attend, chores, or appointments that will occur this day or tomorrow.

This can emphasize what will happen today or tomorrow, and they might cross off what they did yesterday. That way, they get a sense that yesterday is gone and that they accomplished many things.

When you teach today, yesterday, and tomorrow with planning, you are helping them learn organizing and how to use executive functioning. You are encouraging independence.

When they make those lists, make sure doctor and dentist appointments are on there. Make sure birthday and holiday celebrations are on those lists. When they cross off items, they see time passing, which helps them develop a sense of past, present, and future.

Make connections to the weather 

Discussing the weather can introduce these time concepts in a fun and practical way. Encourage your child to use their smartphone to check the weather forecast for today and tomorrow. This activity helps them understand the concept of time and engages them with a real-world application.

Sit down together and look up the weekly weather forecast on a reliable website. Make it a routine to compare the temperatures and weather conditions of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

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For example, you might say, “Yesterday it was sunny and warm. Today, it looks like it will be cloudy. What does the forecast say for tomorrow?” This comparison can help them visualize the passage of time and understand how each day is connected to the next.

Adapt classroom strategies

At school, teachers can use the written phrase and verbalize “Today is ______________.”  They can show them what they will do today with a visual schedule on the board.

Later in the day, they might write out and verbalize the phrase “Tomorrow will be ______________.” Tomorrow, you will return your homework or go on a field trip.

Teachers might ask their students what they did yesterday (over the weekend). They might have them say, “Yesterday my family and I _________________.”

Teaching children with autism the concept of time

Incorporating everyday activities like checking the weather into your discussions about today, yesterday, and tomorrow can make these abstract concepts more tangible and easier for your child to understand.

Engaging them in practical tasks and creating routines helps them develop a clearer sense of time and enhances their organizational skills. Through these efforts, you are teaching them about the days of the week and fostering their independence and confidence in managing their daily lives.


Q: How do you help an autistic child understand time?

A: To help an autistic child understand time, use visual aids like clocks, timers, and schedules with clear, pictorial representations of daily activities and time blocks. Consistently reinforce the concept by linking these visual tools to daily routines, ensuring patience and repetition to build comprehension.

Q: Why do autistic people struggle with the concept of time?

A: Autistic people often struggle with the concept of time due to difficulties in executive functioning, which affects their ability to organize and sequence events, and sensory processing issues, which can alter their perception of time’s passage. These challenges can make it hard for them to predict or understand the duration and order of activities.

Q: Do autistic kids understand time out?

A: Autistic children may understand the concept of time out, but their perception and response to it can vary widely depending on their individual cognitive and emotional development. Effective use of time out often requires clear communication and consistency tailored to the child’s specific needs and comprehension level.


Casassus, M., Poliakoff, E., Gowen, E., Poole, D. and Jones, L.A. (2019), Time perception and autistic spectrum condition: A systematic review. Autism Research, 12: 1440-1462. 

Lucie Jurek, Yannick Longuet, Matias Baltazar, Anouck Amestoy, Vicky Schmitt, Michel Desmurget, Marie-Maude Geoffray, How did I get so late so soon? A review of time processing and management in autism, Behavioural Brain Research, Volume 374, 2019, 112121, ISSN 0166-4328, 

The post Helping Autistic Children Understand the Concept of Time appeared first on Autism Parenting Magazine.

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