Time perception and autistic spectrum condition: A systematic review

Autism Res. 2019 Oct;12(10):1440-1462. doi: 10.1002/aur.2170. Epub 2019 Jul 23.


Problems with timing and time perception have been suggested as key characteristics of autism spectrum condition (ASC). Studies and personal accounts from clinicians, parents, caregivers, and self-reports from autistic people themselves often refer to problems with time. Although a number of empirical studies have examined aspects relating to time in autistic individuals, there remains no clear consensus on whether or how timing mechanisms may be affected in autism. A key reason for this lack of clarity is the wide range of timing processes that exist and subsequently the wide range of methodologies, research paradigms, and samples that time-based studies have used with autism populations. In order to summarize and organize the available literature on this issue, a systematic review was conducted. Five electronic databases were consulted. From an initial 597 records (after duplicates were removed), 45 papers were selected and reviewed. The studies are reviewed within different sections based on the different types of timing ability that have been explored in the neurotypical (NT) population: time sensitivity, interval timing, and higher-order time perception. Within each section cognitive models, methodologies, possible clinical implications, and research results are discussed. The results show different consistency across studies between the three types of timing ability. The highest consistency of results showing atypical time perception abilities is found in high-level time perception studies. It remains unclear if autism is characterized by a fundamental time perception impairment. Suggestions for future research are discussed. Autism Res 2019, 12: 1440-1462. © 2019 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: This systematic review examines the different types of timing and time perception behavior that have been investigated in autism. Overall, there are a number of studies that show differences between autistic and non-autistic individuals, but some studies do not find such differences. Group differences are more consistent across studies using complex tasks rather than simpler more fundamental timing tasks. We suggest that experiments across a range of timing tasks would be fruitful to address gaps in our knowledge.

Keywords: autism; prospective timing; scalar expectancy theory; systematic review; temporal order judgements; temporal sensitivity; time perception; timing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Time Perception / physiology*