Nov. 1st, 2016

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On Autism and the sensation of Time.


November 1 keeps catching me by surprise. Every year. Every Autistics Speaking day.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have an accurate sense of time: to remember an event and Just Know how long ago it was, to see an event in the calendar and Just Know how long I have to wait. But I don't. I have five times into which all events are sorted: there is the Now. There is the Recent Past and the Near Future... maybe up to 24 hours in either direction. And then there's the Past, and the Future. And within those two groups, there is no ordering. If something happened a week ago, or twenty years ago, it feels the same to me. If something is scheduled for Thursday, or for April, the urgency is the same to me.

As you can imagine, this doesn't help with things. If something was more than a couple of days ago, I don't remember if I've done it or not. The death of my father's father in 1993 feels as immediate and painful as the death of my mother's father in 2009. For any event which has happened, I must consciously remember context to put things in order: This person was at that event, so it must have been while I was working there. That narrows it down to five years or so... now I have to look up which years those were...

Because all events in the future are the same, it makes planning a bastard. All tasks are due In The Future, so the one which is due in two days feels like the one due in a month. So when I look at a list of things which need doing, I don't see a list, I see a heap: I cannot pick which one needs to be done first, because they all feel like they need to be done first. And when I need to do something, either I do it Now, or I look up and see that I have been saying "I'll do it tomorrow" for a week, and the week before that, and the week before that, and... it's been months. Bugger: I'd better do it tomorrow, then.

Would you believe this affected language learning? D'accord, mes enfants: Quelle heure est-il? And the teacher would wave a clock at us with the hands set just so. I still, at almost 43 years old, have to stop and consciously figure out a dial clock from first principles, every time. So then, I would still be trying to figure out which one was the hour hand when even the slowest other student had thrust their hands up: C'est huit heures quinze, madame! (That I couldn't process anyone's speech as quickly as anyone else didn't help either.) So, for years, I thought I was bad at languages.

I saw an episode of Bones once, where a character described himself as "dyslexic for time", which description struck through me.

Depression is not helped by this. Because all I can put into somatic context is the immediate Now, then I cannot remember not being anxious or depressed. I know it must have been different at some point, but I am currently full of fear and anxiety, and it may as well always have been thus, and might as well always be.


If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done. I just wish that every minute weren't the last minute.

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