Speech Pathology: Countdown, blast off!

Lots of people find using timers and countdown strategies to be really useful for themselves, their kids, or the people they support.


Have you ever had a friend or partner come up to you at a dinner party and insist on leaving RIGHT NOW? Of course not! (well probably not). That would be distressing and terrible, you still need to say goodbye to everyone and get the recipe for that olive dip before you’re ready to leave.
We have all sorts of unwritten social conventions when let people know we’d like to leave soon; we might say something indirect like, ‘I have a really early start tomorrow’, or yawning and looking at your watch. These are signals that we would like to go home, and the countdown has begun- you are anticipating leaving soon.
Children and people with Autism need the same gentle reminders that a transition time is coming. How awful to be suddenly ripped away from something you care about, for a reason you don’t understand and can’t control! Often these loved ones might need some more explicit warning to help ease that transition period.

Using a Timer

Using an egg timer, visual countdown app, or hour glass will allow the person the ‘five minute warning’ they need to finish up, anticipate the change, and make that transition calmly. It gives them a clear deadline, and allows them to finish up of their own accord. It’s simply a much more obvious way of saying ‘darling they’re out of the good rosé, and I need to catch up on Bachie.’


Waiting can be difficult and hard to quantify. How long is ‘just a sec’, or ‘hold your horses’? Time is abstract and doesn’t make sense, and ‘wait a moment’ might not feel any different to ‘wait for a billion years’.


Imagine if you needed something, and one person was in total control of your ability to get it. You use the resources at your disposal to access what you need, but your benevolent dictator keeps putting you off. ‘Later, later’, they tell you. Is it a hollow promise? You have no way of knowing. Your frustration is eternal. You act out.

Timers can also keep parents and support workers on track. It’s important that we keep our promises, but sometimes things just slip through our fingers, and ‘I’ll be in to read you a story in a minute’ can suddenly turn into half an hour. We want to build trust as well as accurate concepts of time, so setting a timer for ourselves is not only egalitarian but educational.

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