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Adults and children who have ADHD sometimes lack the ability to understand object permanence. Object permanence is significant since it affects how a person interacts with their environment and world, influencing their relationships with others, their daily routines and their work life. 

This article will take a deep dive into the concept of object permanence in individuals with ADHD, including an explanation of what it is and how it can impact daily life. We will also offer strategies to help cope with this aspect of ADHD and its associated challenges. 

What is Object Permanence?

The term object permanence, or object constancy, refers to the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they are not visible or perceptible. The cognitive skill of object permanence typically emerges during the sensorimotor stage of development, which occurs during the first 2 years of life.

If you take a toy from a young child and hold it behind your back they may start to cry, thinking that the toy is completely gone. This would show that the child has not yet experienced the development of object permanence and potentially has object constancy issues. If instead they move or reach behind you, in an attempt to get the toy from where you’ve just put it, they would have an understanding of object permanence since they realize the toy has just been moved out of sight.

Most infants start to show object permanence around the same time, however, individuals who are neurodivergent (such as those with autism or ADHD) may have delays or differences in this developmental milestone. 

Object Permanence in ADHD: What’s The Relationship?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that involves patterns of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Those with ADHD often have a hard time focusing and sitting still. This condition can interfere with daily functioning and cognitive development. Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Inattentiveness or difficulty paying attention to tasks
  • Lack of impulse control and acting on urges with little concern for potential consequences
  • Hyperactivity or difficulty sitting still 
  • Memory lapses

One reason why people with ADHD can have a lack of object permanence is that they have memory deficits, specifically in their working memory. This component of executive function is what helps you carry out and complete tasks.

Difficulties with object permanence can affect your day-to-day in several ways. Some examples include: 

  • Having a hard time holding information in your mind
  • Forgetting about appointments
  • Forgetting the locations of objects 
  • Having difficulty completing tasks 
  • Having a hard time remembering something if it isn’t right in front of you

Difficulties with object constancy in ADHD can get in the way of daily life, productivity at work and personal relationships. Forgetting deadlines or appointments is a common consequence experienced by people who struggle with object permanence and ADHD, including phenomena such as ADHD paralysis

Challenges Caused by Object Permanence in ADHD

The link between object permanence challenges and ADHD may make it difficult for you to stay organized and maintain routines. It may be harder for you to complete tasks on time which can lead to challenges at work or in school.

If you have a hard time staying on top of things because you have ADHD and issues with object permanence, it can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety and even low self-esteem. For this reason, it is incredibly important to take steps to overcome these challenges and find coping methods that work well for you. 

5 Tips for Coping with Object Permanence in ADHD

Dealing with challenges with object permanence can make living with ADHD especially difficult. Luckily there are several practical strategies you can use to make it easier, such as: 

  • Utilizing technology and organizational tools
  • Breaking tasks into manageable steps
  • Using external cues and visual reminders
  • Practicing mindfulness and self-regulation
  • Seeking support from a Psychiatrist

1) Utilize Technology and Organizational Tools

Utilizing smartphone apps, digital calendars and alarm reminders on your phone are all ways to stay focused and get your tasks done if you struggle with ADHD. Apps such as Inflow and Routinery are designed specifically for people with ADHD. 

They come with built-in reminders, time-tracking features and customizable alerts all to help with to-do lists and task management. It is also helpful to organize digital files into folders to help categorize things and have easy access to documents.  

2) Break Tasks into Manageable Steps

Trying to achieve multiple milestones at once can be overwhelming. To prevent this, break tasks into manageable steps or to-do lists. Crossing off simple tasks builds momentum and productivity. People with ADHD who struggle with procrastination will also find it helpful to prioritize tasks based on importance or urgency.

3) Implement External Cues and Reminders

External cues and reminders can be hugely beneficial. Having a reminder that you can see, such as a sticky note or calendar in a place you go to frequently, can help you stay on top of certain tasks and avoid forgetting important deadlines or appointments. 

Sensory cues can be helpful as well, such as color-coded labels or designating specific storage areas for frequently used items. This helps to enhance object permanence and prevent you from misplacing important items. They serve as representations of objects.

4) Practice Mindfulness and Self-Regulation Techniques

Mindfulness exercises such as meditation, breathwork and progressive muscle relaxation help you to stay aware of your surroundings and maintain better control over your attention. Self-regulating strategies such as self-monitoring help to improve executive functioning and reduce impulsivity. Some individuals with ADHD find that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT methods help with managing impulsivity and improving executive functioning. 

5) Seek Support and Build a Supportive Network

Don’t be afraid to seek support from peers, family members, support groups and trained professionals. By involving loved ones in managing object permanence challenges, you can foster open communication and collaboration to help you better overcome your challenges with object permanence. 

If you tried taking steps to manage ADHD challenges on your own without success, it may be time to seek out professional help. Skilled professionals can help you develop a personalized treatment approach and remain consistent with coping strategies. 

Object Permanence in Different Subtypes of ADHD

Because there are different subtypes of the neurological condition ADHD, object permanence issues can have different effects. It is important to consider individual differences and subtype-specific challenges when it comes to treating and managing ADHD. Below we will discuss three subtypes of ADHD: 

  • Predominantly inattentive ADHD
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD
  • Combination ADHD

Predominantly Inattentive ADHD

Individuals with predominantly inattentive ADHD struggle with maintaining focus and attention, specifically on tasks that require extended mental effort. Object permanence issues for this subtype will manifest as memory issues such as forgetfulness and poor working memory. 

People with predominantly inattentive ADHD might struggle with frequently misplacing belongings, forgetting deadlines or following through on daily tasks that require sustained attention (such as writing a paper or cleaning out and reorganizing your closet). 

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD usually causes individuals to have excessive motor activity and impulsivity. Individuals with this subtype of ADHD demonstrate impulsive behavior without considering long-term consequences. 

Individuals with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD might also have a hard time with object permanence since impulsive behavior can make it harder for them to stay focused and pay attention. For example, someone with this type of ADHD may forget about a task or lose track of objects because they get distracted when moving from one task to another. 

Combination ADHD

Some people have a combination of both predominantly inattentive ADHD and predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD. Individuals with combination ADHD experience symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Object permanence issues in this subtype might involve a combination of forgetfulness, an inability to rely on their internal clock and difficulty paying attention to tasks.

If you have a combination of both types of ADHD, you may face multifaceted challenges in object permanence. This can impact your everyday life including work as well as social interactions.

Final Thoughts

Object permanence is an important concept to understand, for children and adults alike. This essential milestone can help parents identify healthy cognitive development in their children during the sensorimotor stage.

It is also something that can impact those with ADHD. If you or someone you love struggles with ADHD, it is important to have a general grasp of object permanence and how it affects those with ADHD. Object permanence struggles will manifest differently in everyone and they are also impacted by the subtype of ADHD that you have. 

Although challenges with object permanence are sometimes manageable with task management apps and organization tools, seeking professional help can be hugely beneficial as well, and it is often required.