How ADHD Affects Object Permanence and What It Means for Relationships

Medically Reviewed By Jeffrey Ditzell, DO
Was this helpful?
42

Object permanence means recognizing that objects still exist even when they are out of sight. This is a milestone of childhood development. For people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), challenges with object permanence can make it difficult to follow treatment plans, organize tasks, or maintain relationships. An estimated 9.4% of children have ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is one of the most common behavioral disorders in children. ADHD also affects about 4.4% of adults.

For people with ADHD, symptoms related to difficulty with object permanence can present challenges in daily tasks, treatment plans, and relationships.

This article explains what object permanence is and how ADHD affects it. It also offers coping tips for overcoming challenges with object permanence and ADHD.

What is object permanence?

Image of orange curtain on left against blue wall with bare feet sticking out from under the curtain
Ulas&Merve/Stocksy United

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the definition of object permanence, or object constancy, is knowing that things or people continue to exist even when you are not directly looking at them.

The APA adds that infants who develop neurotypically gradually begin showing signs of object permanence at around 8 months of age until fully developing this awareness at around 18 months.

Separation anxiety is a rite of passage for many older infants and toddlers. This anxiety directly relates to object permanence. As children start to realize that their parents or caregivers still exist when they leave the room but do not know when they will be back, they get upset.

People with ADHD also reach this milestone and understand that objects exist even when they are out of sight. However, the symptoms of ADHD can create a sense of “out of sight, out of mind” that some people refer to as “lack of object permanence.”

People with inattentive ADHD, in particular, experience these types of symptoms, including:

  • difficulty finishing tasks
  • forgetfulness
  • losing track of objects
  • becoming easily distracted
  • challenges with organizing or planning ahead

These symptoms can seem to be rooted in difficulty with object permanence, and they may present several challenges.

For example, some people with ADHD — particularly children — report forgetting to take their medication. Because effective treatment can help manage ADHD symptoms, it is important for people with ADHD to develop strategies to follow their treatment plans.

It can also be difficult for people with ADHD to reflect on past events or plan a future activity. People may relate this to object permanence in the sense that anything a person with ADHD is not currently experiencing is “out of mind.”

Effect on relationships

The symptoms of ADHD related to object permanence can also make it difficult to build and maintain relationships of all types. The sections below explore this notion in more detail.

Among children

Children with ADHD report poor relationships with their fellow students, fewer relationships, and more experiences as victims of bullying.

This may be due to several factors. For example, children with inattentive ADHD may become withdrawn and appear shy. Those with impulsivity or hyperactivity may frustrate their peers by not waiting their turn or interrupting while the other person is talking.

Among adults

Adults with ADHD often report more problems in romantic relationships. For example, one review of ADHD across all ages suggests that adults with ADHD are more likely to develop addictions and experience mood and anxiety disorders, which can challenge work and personal relationships.

In some cases, untreated symptoms of ADHD can lead to higher rates of marital separation and divorce.

Coping tips and support

By working with their doctors and loved ones, people with ADHD can develop effective treatment plans and support systems to help manage symptoms.

Experts recommend these tips to help overcome the daily challenges of ADHD symptoms, particularly those related to object permanence:

  • keeping separate lists for work and home with tasks or important things to remember
  • always maintaining a calendar and using calendar reminders for events, meetings, and appointments
  • using sticky notes to remember to take medications or do other important things, such as pay bills
  • keeping easily lost items, such as keys and bills, in the same place and always returning them
  • maintaining a strict routine with plenty of sleep and time for exercise
  • devising a system to mark emails as important when you need to respond
  • responding to texts immediately or coming up with a system not to open texts until you can respond
  • setting reminders on your phone
  • being honest with friends and family and encouraging them to reach out anytime

Finding an ADHD support group, either online or in person, can also help you develop strategies and get advice from other people who share your experiences.

Summary

Some symptoms of ADHD seem to be related to difficulty with object permanence, which is the awareness that something still exists even when you cannot see it.

For some people with ADHD, symptoms such as forgetfulness, distraction, and difficulty organizing or planning tasks can reflect the idea of “out of sight, out of mind” to those around them. This can present challenges at school or work and put a strain on relationships.

By working with your doctor and loved ones, you can develop strategies to complement your treatment plan to help you manage symptoms and overcome the challenges of ADHD.

Was this helpful?
42
Medical Reviewer: Jeffrey Ditzell, DO
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 15
View All ADHD Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.