How To Teach An Autistic Child To Tell The Time 🕒

Fact-checked by Vincenza De Falco, Autism & Learning Disabilities Specialist Coach

Learning to tell the time is not always easy for children. This is especially true for children with autism who, despite craving routine in their daily life, often find it hard to conceptualize the idea of time.  However, with a little effort and commitment, autistic children can learn to tell the time based on their individual level of functioning. 

Keep in mind that while it may take autistic children a while to fully understand the concept of time and learn how to read clocks, once they do it, it can have a huge impact on their lives.

It can help them structure their day in a better way and follow routines in a better way. This makes it a valuable and essential life skill for every child. Now, let’s take a look at how to teach an autistic child to tell time.


There are certain prerequisites to telling time. You cannot expect a child to learn to tell the time if he/she doesn’t have the following skills. 

  • The child must be familiar with the concept of time. 
  • The child must be able to read numbers, from 1- 12.
  • The child must know how to count, at least to 60. 
  • The child must be able to count by 5.
  • The child must be familiar with the concept of forward and backward.  

Helpful Tips on How to Teach an Autistic Child to Tell Time

Research suggests that tracking time can be challenging for children with autism. Here are a few tips that can help you teach an autistic child to read the time.

Introduce the Concept of Time

Before you can teach an autistic child to read the time, it is important they understand the concept of the passage of time. Make sure they are familiar with terms like day, night, morning, noon, and evening. 

You can also introduce the idea of months and years. However, it is best to stick with hours and minutes in the beginning. It is important to give the child time to process one thing at a time. Once a child can decipher hours and minutes and understand the idea of day and night, then you can eventually teach them about months and years. 

Focus on the Goal 

If your ultimate goal is to teach the autistic child to read an analog clock, it is advisable to start there. While it is definitely easier for children with autism to read digital clocks, they shouldn’t be your first choice. Learning to tell the time from an analog clock is an essential life skill that your child must learn, depending on the level of functionality.   

Teach the Right Vocabulary 

Start by teaching the right vocabulary related to time. You can invest in children-friendly books with loads of pictures and images or make a trip to the library to get the right books to teach your autistic child about the time.

You can also find various mobile apps and online resources that are specially designed to help autistic children learn and grow. Some time-related terms that you must teach your child include: 

  • Am = Morning 
  • Pm = Afternoon and evening    
  • Hour 
  • Half 
  • Minute 
  • Second 
  • Quarter to
  • Quarter past  

There are multiple ways to promote language development in autistic children. You can use any of these to help your child learn time-related vocabulary.  

Introduce the Clock

In order to tell the time correctly, your autistic child must be able to identify the different hands of the clock. So start with teaching what each hand represents: 

  • Shorthand shows hours
  • Medium hand shows minutes 
  • Longhand shows seconds 

Once your child knows what each hand represents, it’s time to teach them how to tell time. Start by explaining how to read time from one hand at a time. For instance, start with the shorthand and teach them how to tell the hour. Next, you can move on to minutes, eventually introducing terms like half and quarter, and so on. 

Keep in mind that teaching an autistic child to tell time is a long process that will take time. It is important that you teach one thing at a time, which is why it is best to breakdown the process into multiple steps.  

Avoid Figurative Expressions 

This is an important tip that you must keep in mind at all times. Children with autism tend to take words literally. So, using phrases like “it’ll just take a second” and “wait a minute” can easily lead to confusion. This is why it is advisable to avoid using figurative expressions around autistic children, especially if you plan to introduce them to the concept of time. 

Use Visual Aids 

Never underestimate the power of using visual aids when it comes to teaching a new concept to children with autism. Try to get your hands on easy-to-use visual aids to teach autistic children to tell time. You can use photographs, line drawings, stickers, and storybooks, or even invest in language builder picture cards.  

Beware of Sensory Issues 

Children with autism may be under or over-sensitive to stimuli. So, when you are teaching them something new, like telling time, it is essential to consider sensory issues in order to create a stress-free environment where they can learn without distractions.

Also, make sure you choose the right props. For instance, you may want to avoid using clocks with complex patterns or glaring colors as some autistic children may find them distracting. 

Now that you know how to teach an autistic child to tell time, you are ready to teach your child one of the most important life skills. Keep in mind that every child is different and learns at his/her own pace. Perseverance is the key here as teaching autistic children to tell time can be a long-term project!

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Vincenza De Falco is an Autism & Learning Disabilities (LD) specialist coach with extensive experience working with young people with various needs in different settings. Her passion for Autism & LD started as a volunteer at a multi-functional provision for Autism whilst studying for a BA in Theatre, Education and Deaf Studies

Throughout her career, Vincenza continues her professional development alongside working within numerous support and leadership roles in education and charities. Having gained Level 3 in Speech and Language Support, HLTA qualification, Level 3 Award in Education and Training and Level 3 CMI Coaching qualification, Vincenza has furthered her expertise within Autism & LD.

Entering the Third Sector as a Project Manager developing and delivering a specialist NEET program, she subsequently joined ThinkForward’s newest venture DFN MoveForward, supporting young people with Autism & LD to successfully transition from education into paid employment. Through 1:1 coaching, family support and training employers to become disability confident, Vincenza builds bespoke programs for young people with the end goal of work readiness and employment. Through Vincenza’s passion for creating systemic change in Disability and employment, she forms part of the successful partnership running the DFN Project Search Supported Internship at Moorfields Eye Hospital.


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