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Object Permanence ADHD, Adult Challenges and How to Cope

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Get the facts about object permanence ADHD and how it interferes with everyday functioning and development of the brain. Discover effective treatment options available to you or your loved ones struggling with ADHD.

What is Object Permanence ADHD?

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. Some people have used the term “object permanence” to refer to this “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon that affects some people with ADHD. However, object permanence is not a recognized medical condition or symptom of ADHD. A person with ADHD cannot be diagnosed with object permanence issues. Keep reading to learn more about ADHD symptoms and the theory of object permanence.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by symptoms of age-inappropriate inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. [1] For people with ADHD, symptoms related to difficulty with object permanence can present challenges in daily tasks, mental health treatment plans, and relationships.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), object permanence, or object constancy, is knowing that things or people continue to exist even when you are not directly looking at them. For example, some people with ADHD report forgetting to take their medication. Because effective treatment can help manage ADHD symptoms, people with ADHD must develop strategies to follow their treatment plans.

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.

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

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.

ADHD Object Permanence Adults Relationships

In adulthood, object constancy allows us to trust that our bond with those close to us remains whole even when they are not physically around, picking up the phone, replying to our texts, or even frustrated at us. With object constancy, absence does not mean disappearance or abandonment, only temporary distance.

Object constancy/permanence is a cognitive skill we acquire at around 2 to 3 years old. It is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, touched, or sensed in some way. This is why babies love peekaboo—they think it ceases to exist when you hide your face. To develop this skill, we mature into the understanding that our caregiver is simultaneously a loving presence and a separate individual who could walk away. Rather than needing to be with them all the time, we have an “internalized image” of our parents’ love and care. So even when they are temporarily out of sight, we still know we are loved and supported.

Without object constancy, one tends to relate to others as “parts,” rather than “whole.” Just like a child who struggles to comprehend the mother as a complete person who sometimes rewards and sometimes frustrates, they struggle to hold the mental idea that both themselves and themselves have both good and bad aspects. They may experience relationships as unreliable, vulnerable, and heavily dependent on the moment’s mood.

Without the ability to see people as whole and constant, it becomes difficult to evoke the sense of the presence of the loved one when they are not physically present. 

The symptoms of ADHD related to object permanence can make it challenging to build and maintain relationships of all types. In some cases, untreated symptoms of ADHD can lead to higher rates of marital separation and divorce.

Needing constant sensory cues to remember things can make life difficult for people with object permanence ADHD. Object permanence issues can also determine why someone with ADHD keeps abandoning tasks before finishing them.
Needing constant sensory cues to remember things can make life difficult for people with object permanence ADHD. Object permanence issues can also determine why someone with ADHD keeps abandoning tasks before finishing them.

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. There is an increasing awareness that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is present in adults and that the symptoms and functional consequences of the disorder have been ongoing since childhood.

In adults, the ADHD symptoms must have begun in childhood and continued into adulthood. The recently adopted Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) criteria require that adults must have had multidimensional ADHD symptoms before the age of 12. Clinicians need to assess ADHD symptoms that have been present in the past six months and symptoms that have occurred since childhood. There is often a history of childhood behavioral or school difficulties that, in retrospect, may be consistent with undiagnosed ADHD. [2]

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Object Permanence ADHD Adults Statistics

ADHD isn’t just a childhood disorder. About 4% of American adults over 18 deal with ADHD daily. Almost everyone has symptoms similar to ADHD at some point in their lives. However, if your difficulties are recent or occurred only occasionally in the past, you probably don’t have ADHD. ADHD is diagnosed only when symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in more than one area of your life. These persistent and disruptive symptoms can be traced back to early childhood.


8.7 Million

In 2018, the number of visits to physician offices with attention deficit disorder as the primary diagnosis was 8.7 million.

Source: CDC

20%

20% of patients with ADHD received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Source: CDC

51.1%

51.5% of individuals with ADHD have behavioral or conduct problems.

Source: CDC


ADHD Object Permanence Facts Sheet

Needing constant sensory signals in order to remember things can make life difficult. Aside from cluttering your space with tons of visual cues, object permanence issues can also be a factor in why someone with ADHD keeps abandoning tasks before finishing them.

Some people with ADHD have fewer symptoms as they age, but some adults continue to have major symptoms that interfere with daily functioning, such as object permanence. In adults, the main features of ADHD may also include difficulty paying attention, impulsiveness and restlessness. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.

5 Fast Facts

  1. Males are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females.
  2. During their lifetimes, 13% of men will be diagnosed with ADHD. Just 4.2% of women will be diagnosed.
  3. The average age of ADHD diagnosis is 7 years old.
  4. Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 6.
  5. ADHD isn’t just a childhood disorder. About 4% of American adults over the age of 18 deal with ADHD on a daily basis.

Currently, 6.1% of American children are being treated for ADHD with medication. Some states have higher rates of treatment with medication than others. About 23% of American children diagnosed with ADHD aren’t receiving medicine or mental health counseling for their disorder. [3]

Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, lack of trained healthcare providers and social stigma associated with mental disorders.

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ADHD and Object Permanence Symptoms

People with ADHD 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 a “lack of object permanence.” People with object permanence ADHD or 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

The subtypes of attention deficit disorders are found to have a different rates of prevalence in a group of individuals suffering from the disorders. It is found that the inattentive subtype is prevalent in about 18.3% of the total patients, while hyperactive/impulsive and combined represent 8.3% and 70%, respectively. It is also found that the inattentive subtype is more common among the female population. The disorders (collectively) are found in a 2:1 male-to-female ratio, as per various research.

It is prevalent in around 3%-6% of the adult population. And it is one of the most prevalent disorders found in childhood. Moreover, there is some evidence that ADHD is more prevalent in the United States than in other developed countries.

To diagnose ADHD, it is very important to take a relevant history of the concerned individual. ADHD is diagnosed in children based on their history, where they face difficulty in at least 6 of the 9 symptoms mentioned in DSM 5. [4]

Inattentive symptoms include the following:

  • Not paying close attention to tasks
  • Missing small details
  • Rushing through tasks
  • Not seeming to listen when spoken to
  • Difficulty organizing things
  • Not finishing work
  • Dislikes or avoids tasks that take sustained mental effort
  • Losing things or being forgetful

Hyperactive symptoms include the following:

  • Fidgeting
  • Feeling like an “internal motor” is always going
  • Leaving their seat
  • Climbing on things
  • Being loud
  • Blurting out answers
  • Talking excessively or out of turn
  • Having trouble waiting their turn
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others.

In adults, however, these core symptoms may be missing and manifest as other problems, such as procrastination, mood instability, and low self-esteem. They will likely be more impulsive in nature or inattentive, as the hyperactivity symptoms can be better controlled. The symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity will likely be elicited when making a proper history of childhood but may have been missed. 

Object permanence ADHD interferes with functioning and development. This can be included in adults who do not work and are often dismissed in this population. For example, a stay-at-home mom may have difficulty getting her children to school on time, organizing her home, paying attention while driving, etc., which affects her daily life even though she is not at work or school. It is essential to consider this when making a diagnosis. 

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Signs of Emotional Object Permanence ADHD

Emotional permanence issues are similar to ADHD object permanence issues, except instead of it applying to objects, it applies to how a person feels about you. If you have a strong sense of emotional permanence, you’ll feel secure and confident in your relationships, even if you don’t have constant proof of them going well. Most people with ADHD don’t have this. So if you’re not consistently getting reassurance from your friends and loved ones that they like you, you’ll think they hate you or your friendship is deteriorating.

This concept can also be related to “object constancy,” which is the ability to “believe that a relationship remains stable and intact, despite the presence of setbacks, conflict, or disagreements.”

Emotional permanence is the ability to understand that emotions are not always temporary. This means that individuals with emotional permanence ADHD can experience a range of intense emotions. But they will not be as quickly drawn into or pulled out of these emotions.

Individuals with this condition may have trouble regulating emotions and experience mood swings. However, they will also be less likely to experience the highs and lows characteristic of ADHD.

Object permanence ADHD can be debilitating and make it difficult to function in everyday life. So, it is vital to identify the signs and symptoms and seek help if necessary.
Object permanence ADHD can be debilitating and make it difficult to function in everyday life. So, it is vital to identify the signs and symptoms and seek help if necessary.

Moreover, emotional permanence is the ability to understand that people and objects still exist even when they are not present. This means that individuals with this condition will be less likely to experience separation anxiety.

There are three primary symptoms of emotional permanence ADHD:

  • Inattention: This symptom is characterized by a person’s inability to focus on one task or activity for an extended period. People with this symptom may appear to be constantly moving or fidgeting and have trouble completing tasks or following through on commitments.
  • Hyperactivity: This symptom is characterized by a person’s excessive energy levels and impulsive behavior. People with this symptom may have trouble sitting still and constantly talking or interrupting others.
  • Impulsivity: This symptom is characterized by a person’s impulsive decisions and actions. People with this symptom may act without thinking and have difficulty controlling their emotions.

These symptoms are often first noticed in childhood and can persist into adulthood. Emotional permanence ADHD can be a disabling condition that affects many areas of a person’s life. If you or someone you know has symptoms of emotional permanence ADHD, it is crucial to seek professional help. A mental health professional can diagnose the condition and develop a treatment plan. With proper treatment, people with emotional permanence ADHD can lead productive and fulfilling lives.

People with ADHD may have trouble with emotional permanence for several reasons. Also, it is believed that ADHD causes delayed emotional maturity in children and adults. This means that people with ADHD may act more impulsively and react to things emotionally at the moment without thinking about the long-term consequences of their actions.

There are a few different ways that ADHD can specifically affect emotional permanence. People with ADHD may have trouble:

  • Recognizing the emotions of others
  • Taking the perspective of others
  • Controlling their own emotions
  • Regulating their own emotions

People with ADHD may also have trouble with emotional closeness. Studies have found that people with ADHD are more likely to have anxiety and depression. This may be because people with ADHD often feel outside looking in and have trouble connecting with others.

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Object Permanence ADHD Examples

Object permanence is a developmental milestone – not an ADHD symptom. The term “object permanence” has been inappropriately used to describe deficits due to object constancy in neurodiverse brains, and it’s important to distinguish these differences. Difficulties with object constancy can result in daily challenges like forgetting to take your meds, respond to messages, or pay the bills. 

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Examples of Object Permanence

Playing “peek-a-boo”

Babies who haven’t yet developed object permanence will think the adult has disappeared when they hide their face.

Hide-and-seek

By the time they reach their first birthday, babies have usually mastered the idea of object permanence. They understand that when a person is hiding, they aren’t gone forever, which is why hide-and-seek is fun for them!

Separation anxiety

Infants who understand object permanence may experience separation anxiety. When they know that objects and people exist even when they’re no longer in sight, they may become upset and throw tantrums when parents or beloved toys are no longer visible. 

Developing object permanence is an essential milestone for babies because it’s the first step to other types of symbolic understanding, such as pretend play, memory development, and language development. 

For people with object permanence ADHD, using an elaborate system of sensory cues is one of the most reliable ways to overcome object permanence issues. Speak with a mental health professional for more practical tips!
For people with object permanence ADHD, using an elaborate system of sensory cues is one of the most reliable ways to overcome object permanence issues. Speak with a mental health professional for more practical tips!

Examples of Object Permanence ADHD

There are critical areas in which object permanence can significantly impact those with ADHD. Some of these include:

Interpersonal Object Permanence ADHD Relationships

This is one of the most common areas where object permanence and ADHD can have adverse effects. In close relationships, it is often difficult to move on from arguments or hurt feelings if one partner cannot let go of them. This can lead to resentment and distance in the relationship.

Additionally, when people cannot effectively deal with their emotions, they may act out in destructive ways. This can include yelling, hitting, or breaking things. This type of behavior can damage relationships and lead to further emotional difficulties.

Work/School Performance

People with object permanence ADHD often have difficulty completing tasks, staying organized, and meeting deadlines. This can impact their work or school performance. Furthermore, they may be more likely to get into trouble for disruptive behavior. Also, because they may have difficulty concentrating, they may have difficulty completing tasks.

People with emotional permanence find it harder to deal with anxiety, which may lead to poorer performance at work or school. So it is essential to be aware of your object permanence ADHD and how it can impact your daily life.

Self-Esteem

People with object permanence ADHD may struggle with low self-esteem. This is because they may feel like they are not meeting the expectations of others. People who constantly dwell on past failures or mistakes may believe they are unworthy or undeserving of good things. This can lead to a cycle of negative thinking that is hard to break out of.

Low self-esteem has been linked to several mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, it is crucial to find healthy ways to deal with negative emotions, so they do not take over your life and damage your self-esteem.

Mood and Emotional Regulation

This is one of the most significant ways object permanence ADHD can impact people. Those with object permanence ADHD often have difficulty regulating their emotions. This can lead to mood swings, irritability, and impulsivity. Additionally, it can make it difficult to cope with stress and manage everyday life.

These consequences can be debilitating and make it difficult to function in everyday life. So, it is vital to identify the signs and symptoms of emotional permanence and seek help if necessary.

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Treatment for Object Permanence ADHD in Adults

You can do many things to ease the pain of object permanence. Education and understanding are the first steps. Because when you are armed with knowledge, it is easier to find solutions. Remember, you are not alone in this. Many people understand what you are going through, and many ADHD resources are available to help you. So reach out and get the help you need. Although it may seem like your emotions are here to stay, there are things you can do to ease the pain. Here are a few tips:

Education and Understanding

This is the first step whenever you are dealing with a new problem. If you can educate yourself about what you are dealing with, it will be easier to find solutions. In the case of the object and emotional permanence, understanding that your emotions are not necessarily permanent can be incredibly helpful. Moreover, this is not just an intellectual understanding but a felt understanding. When you feel that your emotions are not permanent, it will be easier to let them go.

Talk to Somebody

Mental disorders can be isolating, and it can be hard to see a way out. Talking to somebody trained to help, whether a therapist, counselor, or even a hotline, can give you the support you need. However, family support is considered the most crucial factor in recovery. People are believed to feel more comfortable discussing their problems with somebody they are close to.

Identify Your Triggers

If you know what sets off your emotions, you can try to avoid those triggers. For example, if you know that seeing a particular person will set off your emotions, try to avoid them. Or, if you know that certain foods trigger your emotions, try to avoid those as well. Moreover, try to devise a plan for when you are triggered. This could involve deep breathing exercises, walking away from the situation, or anything else that works for you.

Structure and Routine

Structure and routine in your life can help to ease the pain of object permanence. Having a set schedule can help to ground you and make you feel more stable. Additionally, sticking to healthy habits like exercise and eating well can help to improve your mood and overall well-being. Also, get enough sleep, as fatigue can worsen your symptoms.

Acceptance

This may be the most challenging step, but it is essential to remember that your emotions are not necessarily permanent. They may come and go, but that does not mean you are a terrible person. Accepting your emotions can be incredibly difficult, but managing them is essential. Because when you accept your emotions, you can begin to work on managing them.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is really about paying attention to the present moment. When caught up in your emotions, it is easy to get lost and forget that they are thoughts and feelings. If you can be mindful of your emotions, you will be less likely to get lost. Instead, you will be able to see them for what they are and let them go more quickly.

Remind yourself of the date by picking out your outfit and hanging it on a door. Decorate your walls with photos of friends and family as reminders to reach out to people if you struggle to maintain relationships.

Find a Support Group

There are often groups available to help those dealing with ADHD. This can relieve feeling alone and help you find others who understand what you are going through. Support groups are often an excellent resource for finding information and tips for dealing with your disorder.

Take Therapy

Therapy is another excellent option for dealing with object permanence. Often, talking to somebody who is trained to help can be incredibly helpful. Therapy can give you the tools you need to manage your emotions and help you understand your disorder better. There are numerous types of therapy, and finding the right one for you can be incredibly helpful.

Consider Medication

Medication may sometimes be necessary to help you deal with object permanence and ADHD. Medication can help stabilize your mood and make it easier to manage your emotions. If you are considering medication, speak with a doctor about available options.

Having a relative or loved one with object permanence ADHD can be stressful, and family members or caregivers may unintentionally act in ways that can worsen their loved one’s symptoms. Call us now for a free mental health assessment! In addition, for the substance abuse or dual diagnosis approach, our inpatient treatmentinpatient medical detox, and residential primary addiction treatment may be available at our affiliated facility. For more treatment resources for ADHD, call us about your symptoms, and we can help you determine the cause and develop a mental health treatment plan.

What is Object Permanence ADHD? FAQs

  1. Is ADHD related to object permanence? 

    Yes. Often with ADHD, people forget to do a task if it’s not right in front of them. Because children and adults with ADHD can struggle with skills like working memory, they often encounter object permanence issues.

  2. Do people with ADHD have object permanence issues?

    Not ALL people with ADHD have an impairment with object permanence. Even when tasks, items, or people are out of sight, some may still know they exist somewhere. But they tend to represent it less in their conscious awareness actively.

  3. What does lack of object permanence mean?

    Object permanence describes a child’s ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard.

  4. What is emotional object permanence?

    Emotional permanence refers to our capacity to believe in other people’s feelings even when not with them. For example, to know that your partner loves you even when you are not together.

  5. What mental disorder is linked with object permanence?

    Object permanence refers to difficulty focusing and paying attention. Inattention can cause problems such as frequently losing everyday items. Some people have used the term “object permanence” to refer to this “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon that affects some people with ADHD.

Search Object Permanence ADHD Topics & Resources
Sources

[1] Ryu H, Han G, Choi J, Park HK, Kim MJ, Ahn DH, Lee HJ. Object permanence and the development of attention capacity in preterm and term infants: an eye-tracking study. Ital J Pediatr. 2017 Oct 2;43(1):90. DOI: 10.1186/s13052-017-0408-2. PMID: 28969661; PMCID: PMC5625684.

[2] Targum SD, Adler LA. Our current understanding of adult ADHD. Innov Clin Neurosci. 2014 Nov-Dec;11(11-12):30-5. PMID: 25621186; PMCID: PMC4301030.

[3] Data and Statistics About ADHD – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

[4] Magnus W, Nazir S, Anilkumar AC, et al. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. [Updated 2022 Aug 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441838/