Object permanence refers to the ability to understand that objects exist when they are out of sight. Some people believe that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is related to problems with object permanence, but this theory is unproven.
One of the major symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is inattention. This refers to difficulty focusing and paying attention. Inattention can cause problems such as frequently losing everyday items.
In the past, some people have used the term “object permanence” to refer to this “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon which affects some people with ADHD.
In addition, some have claimed that problems with object permanence could cause issues with relationships in children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD.
However, object permanence is not a recognized medical condition or symptom in ADHD. A person with ADHD cannot be diagnosed with object permanance issues.
Keep reading to learn more about ADHD symptoms and the theory of object permanence.
Object permanence, put simply, is the ability to understand that an object continues to exist, even though it can no longer be seen, heard or touched.
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was the first person to coin the term in the 1960s. He observed how babies reacted when a favorite toy was shown to, and then hidden, from them.
Babies who had not developed object permanence would appear confused or upset, as if the object had ceased to exist. Babies who had developed object permanence would continue to look for the toy.
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, some babies can demonstrate an understanding of object permanence as early as 4–5 months of age. However, most infants do not really grasp the concept until around 9 months old.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that may include some of the following traits or symptoms:
- inattention to tasks and difficulty keeping focused
- hyperactivity, including fidgeting, restlessness, and constant moving about
- impulsivity, including hasty or harmful decision-making, risk-taking, and excessive interruption
Most people with ADHD receive their diagnosis in childhood. However, others may receive their diagnosis in adulthood. According to the American Psychiatric Association, around 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD. It is more common in boys than girls, according to the APA.
Forgetfulness is a symptom of ADHD that is related to inattention. People with ADHD typically:
- lose objects they need for school, work, or daily life
- forget about tasks, activities, and appointments
- are easily distracted by present thoughts, people, items or tasks
Some claim that this indicates difficulty in remembering that objects, tasks, or items exist, when the person with ADHD cannot see, hear, or touch them. In theory, forgetfulness symptoms could be related to object permanence. But object permanance is not an accepted medical symptom or diagnosis.
Anecdotally, some parents of children with ADHD say that their children do realize things exist when they cannot see them, but have no idea, or do not care, where those things might be.
There is not a great deal of strong research to prove that problems with object permanence may arise because of ADHD, or vice versa. Most research around object permanence focuses on infants and development during early infancy, while the average age of diagnosis for ADHD is
Object permanence is linked to the ability to form secure attachments with others. Babies who understand that a person exists, even when they are not present, are better able to form secure attachments with care-givers. This ability is known as “object constancy.” It may help people to form secure relationships, or “attachments,” throughout life.
Studies have found clear associations between insecure attachment and people with ADHD.
Object permanence is not a recognized problem or condition in adults with ADHD.
However, inattention and forgetfulness are medically-recognized symptoms of ADHD. These and other ADHD symptoms often persist into adulthood, according to the
Problems with inattention in adults with ADHD may result in the following behaviors:
- forgetting daily tasks, such as paying bills, doing chores, or remembering to keep appointments
- forgetting to take medication
- forgetting to stay in touch, return emails and texts, or respond to invitations
A 2015 review into the relationships of children with ADHD with peers and friends, found that children with ADHD tend to:
- be less liked by their peers
- have fewer friends
- experience more rejection and isolation
- have fewer “mutual” relationships
- experience more aggression and conflict within relationships
- join deviant peer groups in adolescence
The same review estimates that 50–70% of children with ADHD experience difficulties in forming and keeping relationships with their peers.
An older 2012 study on the relationships of 90 adults with ADHD found that participants were more likely to:
- be more immature
- act out in defense
- be more neurotic
- have insecure attachments
The tendency to forget important tasks, often essential to the harmonious running of a relationship or household, can also cause conflicts.
However, treatments such as medication and therapy can help people with ADHD manage their symptoms and improve their daily quality of life, including their relationships.
Object permanence problems are not a medical diagnosis or accepted symptom in ADHD.
However, there are known strategies to help manage ADHD symptoms such as forgetfulness. These strategies may help people who tend to lose track of essential objects, tasks, or communications.
Tips to cope with forgetfulness include:
- not opening texts, emails and messages until they are sure they can respond immediately
- choosing a spot to place essential items, such as medication, to-do lists and important devices such as phones
- setting reminders for appointments and tasks in an online calendar with an alert function
- setting recurring appointments with loved ones for visits or calls
It is important to note that while ADHD may cause some challenges, there are also potential benefits to the condition. Learn more about them here.
Object permanence refers to the understanding that objects continue to exist when they cannot be seen, heard, or touched. In babies, this is a key part of establishing secure attachments in early life.
Some have suggested that object permanence problems could explain certain ADHD symptoms, like forgetfulness.
According to this theory, object permanence problems make people with ADHD more likely to forget important tasks, objects, and people when they are not present. But object permanence is only a theory of ADHD, not an accepted symptom or diagnosis.
Strategies are available to help people with ADHD manage symptoms of inattention or forgetfulness. If ADHD is affecting a person’s quality of life, they should speak with a doctor about treatment options.