Timers for Kids With ADHD and Autism

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Timers for kids are some of the easiest most effective tools to utilize. They can be a great visual tool to help your child stay on task, the transition from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity, or warn your child when it’s time to give up or share a preferred item. Timers can really be a life-changing tool to implement into your household, well, depending on if you use them correctly!

How To Use a Timer

Verbally telling your child how much time to complete a task or transitioning to a different task, are both great uses for a visual timer. For example, set a timer for 30 minutes to eat dinner. Remind your child by letting them know that they have 30 minutes to eat dinner. Periodically remind your child about their remaining time “You have 20 minutes left, 10 minutes left, 5 minutes left, 30 seconds, all done.” 

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It’s helpful to have the visual timer displayed and within eyesight, so your child can not only hear the warning prompts but also visually see them as well. Now you are presenting information through 2 different senses (seeing and hearing) helping your child get a better grasp of the situation. Since every child reacts differently to visual displays and verbal prompts, don’t be afraid to experiment on how to use a timer. Figure out what works best for your child.

Read more: Transition Strategies For Kids With ADHD

Honoring More Time 

Is there enough time to honor more time? Is the next activity or task going to be easy or hard for your child? Will honoring more time disrupt others? How many times do you allow more time? These are some questions that can guide you on whether you should allow more time for your child to continue playing. Consider if honoring more time with an activity or item will impede on the next task or event. If it is appropriate and feasible, allow an extra minute or two with an activity or item. Honoring more time can be very effective in decreasing arguments and fights. They can also be used as valuable bargaining chips for later situations, “I will give you 2 more minutes with your legos if you promise to finish cleaning up your room”.

Timers for kids this image shows a hand holding a clock

Following Through 

After letting your child spend more time doing something, it’s important to make sure you actually follow through and end the activity when it’s time to do so. This helps set boundaries and expectations for your child. As a parent, you don’t want your child to be able to push you around or take advantage of you, but you also don’t want to get into arguments where nobody wins. Finding a healthy balance between allowing more time and following through when it’s time to stop is key.

Picking Your Battles 

Have you ever heard your child tell you “NO!” when it is time to turn the tv off? All they want to do is keep watching and you are standing there thinking “Oh boy, here comes an argument.” It is painful to go through and it usually ends in tears. Pick your battles. Use your priming tools, timers for kids, and follow through to set those boundaries.

How can you manipulate the environment in which the battles you pick do not become detrimental to growth and understanding? For example, your timer for kids goes off to get ready for bed. At this point you set the timer, honored more time, and you are ready to follow through. It’s a battle you have to pick. How can you reduce the effort in getting ready for bed? Maybe bring the clothes to your child. Motivate your child to engage in getting ready. When you pick your battles, ease the pain for both the parent and the child. This will not only help in the short term by avoiding fights but also build habits that you can adjust to your liking after they are built.

Important To Note 

Utilize a visual timer. Provide prompts while the timer is counting down. Honor more time if time allows. Follow through after you honor more time. Choose your battles wisely and reduce the effort to complete tasks. These are some tips I have on how to use timers in your household.

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In conclusion, timers for kids are an invaluable tool for fostering time management, independence, and self-regulation skills. By providing a clear, easy-to-understand representation of time, these timers help children grasp the concept of time and make transitions smoother. Whether it’s for completing tasks, managing routines, or easing anxiety, visual timers can make a significant difference in the lives of both neurodivergent and neurotypical children. So, consider incorporating a visual timer into your child’s daily life and witness the positive impact it can have on their growth and development.

FAQs About Timers for Kids

Why are timers helpful for kids with special needs?
Timers can provide structure and routine, which can be particularly beneficial for children with special needs who may struggle with organization and time management. They can also help with transitions and reduce anxiety by providing a visual representation of time.

What types of timers are best for kids?
There are several types of timers that can be helpful for kids, including visual timers, auditory timers, and tactile timers. Visual timers can be particularly effective for children who are visual learners or who benefit from a visual cue of how much time is remaining.

How do I choose the right timer for my child?
Consider your child's specific needs and preferences when choosing a timer. Some children may prefer a visual timer with a countdown, while others may respond better to an auditory timer that beeps when time is up. You may also want to consider the size and durability of the timer, as well as any special features it may have, such as a vibration option.

Can timers be used for behavioral interventions?
Yes, timers can be a useful tool for behavior modification. For example, a timer can be used to help a child stay on task for a specific amount of time or to encourage positive behavior by setting a goal and rewarding the child when the timer goes off.

How can I make using a timer more fun for my child?
There are several ways to make using a timer more engaging for kids. You could use a timer with a fun visual display or a timer that plays music when time is up. You could also make a game out of using the timer, such as seeing how many tasks your child can complete before the timer goes off.

This post was originally published on 12/28/2020. It was updated on 06/19/2023.

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Alexandra Hakeem Is a Denver based BCBA. In her free time, Alexandra enjoys snowboarding, volunteer work, and hanging out with her nieces and nephews.

Editor’s note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.

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