Object Permanence & ADHD: The Unseen Connection


When you think of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the first things that might come to mind are hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty keeping focus.

However, there’s another side to this complex condition that often goes unnoticed: the concept of “object permanence.”

It’s no usual suspect in ADHD discussions, but it could hold the key to understanding some of the most persistent challenges faced by individuals with this disorder.

In this article, we are going to look closely at how ADHD and object permanence affect each other.

We will talk about the challenges people with ADHD might face with this concept and suggest some ways to help them understand and remember it better.

What is Object Permanence?

Object permanence refers to the basic understanding which takes place during childhood development is a basic idea in child development. It’s the understanding that things still exist even when you can’t see them, like when playing peek-a-boo with a baby. But when a child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), this simple concept can get a bit complicated.

ADHD is a condition where a person might have a hard time paying attention, may act without thinking, or be very active. When someone with ADHD learns about object permanence, it might be different from how other kids learn it. This is important because it affects how they understand the world around them.

In simpler terms, it’s the reason why we don’t freak out when our car disappears from view after we park it and walk away.

Most of us, anyway.

How ADHD Affects Object Permanence

Executive functioning is like the brain’s control center. It’s responsible for important tasks like planning, organizing, and paying attention. For someone with ADHD, this control center can face some challenges.

These challenges can directly impact their understanding of object permanence.

Think of it this way: If a child with ADHD is playing with a toy and then it’s covered up or taken away, their brain might struggle to remember that the toy still exists.

This isn’t just about forgetting – it’s about how their brain manages information and focuses on tasks.

Since their executive functioning is different, they might not process the idea of object permanence the same way other children do.

Memory and Attention in ADHD

Memory and attention are two areas where kids with ADHD often need extra support. These are also crucial for understanding object permanence.

A child needs to remember that something exists even when it’s not in front of them. But if their attention is easily pulled away, or if they have a hard time holding onto that memory, the concept of object permanence can be more difficult to grasp.

For example, if a child with ADHD puts down a toy and gets distracted by something else, they might not immediately remember or think about the toy.

It’s not that they don’t have the ability to understand object permanence; it’s more about how their ADHD affects their memory and focus.

Most children develop this skill during infancy, usually around 8 to 12 months of age. It’s a fascinating stage to watch, as any parent who’s played peek-a-boo with their baby can testify.

One moment, you’re hiding behind your hands, and to your child, you’ve vanished. But once you reveal your face, it’s like you’ve performed a magic trick.

As they grow older, they start understanding that you’re still there, even when hidden, marking the development of object permanence.

Recognizing Object Permanence Issues in ADHD

The struggle with object permanence isn’t restricted to physical objects or tasks. It extends to emotions and relationships. Individuals with ADHD can find it difficult to keep a stable emotional connection with people who aren’t physically present. It’s not that they forget about the person, but the emotional intensity associated with that person might dwindle in their absence.

Identifying issues with object permanence in children with ADHD can be a bit tricky, as these signs often blend into the broader landscape of ADHD symptoms.

However, there are certain indicators that may suggest difficulties with understanding object permanence.

  1. Frequent Misplacement of Objects: If a child often loses their belongings, like toys or pencils, and seems genuinely surprised or confused when these items are not in their immediate field of vision, it could be a sign of struggles with object permanence. They might not just be forgetful; they might not fully grasp that these items continue to exist even when out of sight.
  2. Challenges in Following Instructions Involving Multiple Steps: Children with ADHD who struggle with object permanence might find it hard to follow multi-step instructions, especially if these steps involve items or actions that aren’t directly in front of them. For instance, if you ask them to go to their room, pick up a book from the shelf, and bring it to you, they might only remember the last part of the instruction.
  3. Difficulty in Understanding Long-Term Consequences: This could manifest as a challenge in understanding that actions have consequences beyond the immediate moment. If a child seems to act without considering the future outcome, it could be linked to a difficulty in maintaining the concept of object permanence.
  4. Problems in Sequential Play or Tasks: In play or tasks that require a sequence of events, children with ADHD might show signs of struggle. They may start a task but quickly lose track of what comes next, especially if it involves items or steps that aren’t immediately visible.
  5. Increased Anxiety with Object or Person Disappearance: Some children might show heightened anxiety or distress when a parent or a favorite object is out of sight. While this can be typical in younger children, in older children with ADHD, it may signal difficulties with understanding that the person or object still exists, even though they can’t see them.

Object Permanence ADHD Examples: Real-life Scenarios

Let’s paint a clearer picture with some real-life examples:

  • Workplace: You’re given a project with a deadline two weeks away. Initially, you’re all in, working diligently. However, as days pass and other tasks crop up, the project slips your mind. It’s only when the deadline looms close that you remember it, leading to last-minute crunch and stress.
  • Personal Relationships: You have a great time hanging out with a friend over the weekend. You promise to call them during the week, but days go by, and you completely forget about it until your friend messages you.
  • Emotional Responsiveness: Your spouse shares their concerns about a work issue. You empathize and offer comfort. However, once the conversation ends, you struggle to maintain that emotional connection to their issue unless they bring it up again.

In these scenarios, object permanence issues could be the unseen culprit behind these ADHD challenges.

Aphantasia-ADHD Connection

Aphantasia, a condition where one cannot form mental images, has been linked to ADHD in recent discussions.

Some researchers and theorists suggest that the inability to visualize could be related to the object permanence challenges seen in ADHD. It’s as if the mind’s “eye” struggles to keep a mental “hold” of objects, tasks, or emotions, leading to the classic “out of sight, out of mind” symptom.

However, it’s crucial to state that this is a theoretical connection and requires more research for definitive conclusions. Having ADHD doesn’t automatically mean one has Aphantasia, and vice versa.

But, the potential overlap offers intriguing prospects for future studies.

Navigating Object Permanence ADHD: Strategies and Tools

While dealing with object permanence issues in ADHD can seem like an uphill task, it’s not an insurmountable challenge. Here are tried-and-tested strategies to help navigate this territory:

  • Reminders and Timers: Use reminders, alarms, and timers to stay on track with tasks or commitments.
  • Visual Aids: Keep things you need to remember in visible places. Use sticky notes, whiteboards, or noticeboards.
  • Digital Tools: Utilize digital tools like task management apps, digital calendars, or smartphone reminders.
  • Consistent Communication: In relationships, maintain regular contact through calls, messages, or meet-ups to keep the emotional connection alive.
  • Mindfulness: Practice mindfulness to stay present and engaged in your current task or interaction.
  • Professional Help: Don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Therapists and counselors can provide personalized strategies to manage ADHD challenges.

Wrapping it Up

Understanding the connection between object permanence and ADHD can provide valuable insights into managing this condition better.

It helps us realize that people with ADHD aren’t just being forgetful or uncaring; they’re grappling with a complex cognitive challenge.

But with understanding, strategies, and support, they can navigate their world with confidence and success.


  • Cam Russo

    Cam is a blogger, author, and content strategist with a keen love for the written word. His journey with high-functioning autism has kindled a strong advocacy for autism awareness. Today, Cam dedicates his efforts to educating parents. He sees laughter as a game-changer in learning, and strives every day to make education a fun and enjoyable journey for all his readers.

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