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Time
Time.   Its a great song by Pink Floyd and Doctor Who is always adventuring in it, but its also that invisible force that rules our lives and bosses us around at every step of the way as we travel through our daily lives.

People with autism have been described as being "lost in a sea of time", as having no internal clock by which to judge the passage of time.   If I say to you I'm going to do something in five minutes, you know roughly how long that is, even if you don't have access to a clock.   Its not precise, but it does the job.


Now imagine if you didn't have that internal clock, five minutes would mean nothing to you, unless you could watch a clock.   "Soon", "later" and "in a while" would be meaningless too, as would "in a moment" and "just a tick".   You'd need concrete time references, such as exact times if you could read and had access to a clock, or fixed points in your day like "when Eastenders finishes" or "when Daddy gets home".   See where I'm going with this?
TV Off!
We all know how time can stretch out into an eternity when we don't know how long something will take and its unpleasant, or how time flies by when we're really enjoying something.   How would you feel if someone said "this will really hurt and it might go on for a really long time" or "you've won the lottery but you can't have the money yet, and I can't tell you when you'll get it"?   Probably the same as if something you were really enjoying were suddenly taken away from you without warning, like someone suddenly turning the TV off when you're half way though your favourite programme.

These are all problems most people with autism experience in many situations, don't tell me you wouldn't feel cross under the same circumstances, and you'd probably have something to say about it too!

If you've ever heard Ros Blackburn speak, you may have noticed her helper holding green, amber and red cards.   She holds these up so Ros knows whether she's free to keep on talking (and boy does she talk!), should start to wind down and maybe take a few questions, or stop because she's out of time.   If Ros hasn't noticed the amber or red cards, the helper can wiggle or wave them a bit to draw Ros's attention to them.


If we apply this to you having your favourite TV programme turned off half way through, we start to arrive at a set of circumstances where we can do it without upsetting you too much.   If you know from the outset you'll only get to watch the first half of your programme, having it turned off won't come as such a surprise or shock.   Ten minute, five minute and one minute warnings can help you prepare for the event, and knowing why its being turned off, such as having to be somewhere at a certain time, also helps.

Thinking about unpleasant activities, such as visiting the dentist or having a blood test, we get through it partially by understanding its not forever, that its only for a short period of time.   Without an innate ability to understand and measure the passage of time, we'd really struggle to get through such an experience.
 
Case study: A child who found hairwashing distressing, crying and screaming as it happened.   What we did was to overlay the unpleasant experience with something structured within time that the child could understand.   We sang a song.   The same song every time, one familiar to the child that soon became "the hairwashing song".   Songs have a set number of verses, lines and words, and are the same each time you sing them, allowing you to see the ending from anywhere within the song, as long as it is a song you know well.   Soon the child began to tolerate the hairwashes and join in the song.
 
Hopefully this has got you thinking about how your child experiences time is possibly very different to the way you do, and started you thinking about some ideas to help them.