You leave your keys on the kitchen counter, then two minutes later you’re looking all over the house for them. You put the milk back in the fridge but forget to close the door. Your partner asks you to pick up bread on your way home, but as soon as you hang up the phone it’s gone from your mind. Sound familiar? For adults with ADHD, these kinds of memory lapses are a regular occurrence. It’s not that we’re forgetful – our brains are just wired differently. This condition develops in childhood, and why it can be more challenging for those of us with ADHD.

What is Object Permanence? The Definition

Jean Piaget, a renowned Swiss psychologist, proposed the concept of object permanence as a crucial milestone in child development. According to Piaget, object permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, heard, or otherwise sensed. This understanding typically develops during the Sensorimotor stage, which occurs from birth to approximately 2 years of age.

Piaget's Stages of Object Permanence

Piaget proposed a series of six substages specifying when and how object permanence develops during the first two years of life. These substages include the emergence of object permanence, trial and error, and the development of representational thought, which allows infants to hold mental representations of unseen objects, demonstrating object permanence.

Piaget’s Six Stages of Object Permanence Development:

  1. Simple Reflexes (0-1 month): During this stage, infants rely on inborn reflexes, such as sucking and grasping, to interact with the world. They have little to no understanding of object permanence.
  2. First Habits and Primary Circular Reactions (1-4 months): In this stage, infants begin to coordinate sensations and actions to develop simple habits and primary circular reactions, but they still lack a full understanding of object permanence.
  3. Secondary Circular Reactions (4-8 months): Infants become more focused on the world and become aware of things around them. They start to engage in purposeful behaviors and begin to develop a basic understanding of object permanence.
  4. Coordination of Secondary Reactions (8-12 months): During this stage, infants become more interested in the environment and start to use primitive symbols. They begin to understand that objects continue to exist even when they are out of sight, indicating a stronger grasp of object permanence.

Object permanence is not typically identified as an issue or condition among adults with ADHD. Nonetheless, ADHD is characterized by medically acknowledged symptoms such as inattention and forgetfulness, which can persist into adulthood, as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adults with ADHD might not be aware that they have the condition. Inattention-related challenges in adults with ADHD can manifest in various behaviors, including forgetting routine activities like paying bills, completing chores, or remembering appointments, as well as overlooking medication schedules or failing to maintain communication by not returning emails, texts, or responding to invitations.


Object Permanence and ADHD: What’s the Connection?

If you have ADHD, you may struggle with object permanence, or the ability to remember that things continue to exist even when you can’t see, hear, or sense them. This can make day-to-day life frustrating.

Studies have found clear associations between insecure attachment and people with ADHD. Insecure attachment in early infancy can lead to challenges in later relationships, such as the suppression of emotions and disengaging from others. Object permanence, and by extension object constancy, is linked to the ability to form secure attachments with others. Understanding that a person exists even when they are not present is crucial for forming secure attachments, and challenges in this area may impact individuals with ADHD.

Time blindness

Trouble with object permanence also leads to what’s known as “time blindness.” The passage of time feels disjointed and episodic. Appointments, deadlines, and future events don’t feel real until the last minute. You live in the present moment, making it hard to plan, prioritize, and think ahead.

Coping strategies

Fortunately, there are ways to help improve your object permanence and time awareness. Keeping visual reminders around, like calendars, schedules, and to-do lists can help give your brain the external prompts it needs. Timers and alarms are also useful for staying on track and avoiding distraction.

Establishing routines and habits takes advantage of your brain’s tendency to go on “autopilot” – the more you practice them, the less mental effort they require. Minimizing clutter and having designated spots for all your items can make them harder to lose or forget.

While object permanence may always remain a challenge, the good news is you can implement strategies to strengthen this ability and make day-to-day life a little easier on your easily-distracted mind. With practice and patience, these skills can become second nature.

How Object Permanence Impacts Adult Friendships

As an adult with ADHD, object permanence issues can make friendships challenging to sustain. Out of sight, out of mind is all too real. Once you’re apart from friends, you may forget to reach out or have trouble remembering the details of your last conversation. This can make friends feel like you don’t really care about them or the relationship.

To help, try setting reminders to connect with friends at least once a week, whether it’s a quick text, call or coffee meetup. Make notes about your interactions and things going on in their lives so you have context for your next conversation. While it may feel unnatural at first, maintaining friendships requires work and consistency. With practice, it can get easier.

Difficulty Planning Ahead

Not being able to visualize future events makes long-term social planning tough. You may commit to dinner next month and then completely space until the day before. Or you intend to check out a new exhibit with a friend but never get around to actually making plans.

To improve, start using a calendar to schedule friend dates in advance. When you make plans, set multiple reminders for the days leading up to the event. Let your friends know in a lighthearted way about your object permanence challenges and ask them to provide extra reminders too. Planning ahead and follow through will get easier with consistency and accountability.

While object permanence issues are lifelong, the good news is you can develop skills and strategies to minimize their impact on your relationships. With work and understanding from your friends, you can maintain healthy, long-lasting social connections despite this challenge.

“Out of Sight, Out of Mind” – Coping With Forgetfulness

For most people, when an object leaves their field of vision, they retain a mental representation of it. But for those with ADHD, that object might as well have vanished from the face of the earth. This is why you may frequently misplace keys, wallets, and other items. Your brain doesn’t maintain that internal reminder that the object still exists.

Use Reminders and Routines

Routines can be a lifesaver when you have ADHD. Establish consistent routines for tasks like taking medication, paying bills, and exercising. Set reminders on your phone, computer, or smart speaker for important deadlines and events. Try different alarm sounds/notifications for different reminders so you don’t tune them out.

Make Lists and Schedules

Write everything down in lists and schedules and review them often. Break big tasks into smaller steps. Keep a master to-do list to capture tasks as you think of them. Review your lists and schedules at the start and end of each day to keep your priorities in focus. Crossing completed tasks off your lists gives you a sense of progress and momentum.

Minimize Distractions

Find ways to minimize distractions in your environment. Let people around you know that you need to focus and would appreciate not being interrupted. Put your phone on do not disturb mode. Close browser tabs and apps that can distract you. A clean, uncluttered workspace also helps minimize distractions.

Use Memory Aids and Visual Cues

Simple memory aids like acronyms, rhymes or alliteration can help information stick in your mind. Visual cues, like color-coding items or using visual reminders, give your memory an extra boost. For example, snap a photo of where you parked your car or place a bright-colored item by the door to remind you to take it with you when you leave. These techniques make the most of your visual memory.

Ask for Help When You Need It

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help when your memory fails you. Let people around you know that you struggle with forgetfulness and could use reminders from time to time. Consider setting up automatic bill payments or using a shared digital calendar with important dates and deadlines. There are many tools and techniques to help supplement your memory—use them! Your memory may still fail you at times, but with the right coping strategies you can minimize the impact.

Tips to Improve Object Permanence in Adults With ADHD

Improving your object permanence takes practice and patience. Start by choosing one area of your home or workspace to focus on, like your desk or kitchen counter.
adulth adhd organize

Designate spots for important items

Give everything a dedicated spot, like a tray for your keys, a drawer for pens and paper, and a shelf for charging electronics. When you place an item down, say aloud where it goes to reinforce the habit. Take pictures of the organized space so you have a visual reference to put things back in their proper place.

Use visual cues

Place bright-colored dots, stickers or labels on storage spots and the items that go there. The visual markers will jog your memory when it’s time to put things away. You can also set a timer to prompt you to do quick cleaning bursts, like putting away items on your desk or sorting the mail.

Start a routine

Establishing daily routines will make organization and object permanence second nature. Do things in the same order each day, like checking your calendar and to-do list as soon as you get to work or school. At home, put on a podcast or music while you tidy up and do chores. The familiar sounds will keep you on task.

Ask for reminders

Don’t be afraid to ask family members or roommates for help remembering where you left important items. Let them know you’re working to improve your object permanence, and politely ask them to provide gentle reminders when they notice you’ve misplaced something. Their support can help reinforce your new habits.

Improving object permanence is a learning process. Don’t get discouraged if you continue to lose or misplace things from time to time. With regular practice of these tips, you’ll get better at keeping track of belongings and maintaining organization. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small wins along the way.

Treatment Options for ADHD in Adults

Psychoeducation combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a promising approach for adults grappling with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Psychoeducation involves imparting knowledge about ADHD, its symptoms, and its impact on daily functioning, helping individuals understand the condition better. This understanding can alleviate feelings of confusion and frustration, empowering individuals to adopt effective coping strategies. CBT, on the other hand, focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with ADHD. By teaching adults with ADHD to recognize and modify their thoughts and behaviors, CBT equips them with practical skills to manage symptoms such as impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. Together, psychoeducation and CBT provide a comprehensive framework for addressing the challenges of ADHD in adults, promoting greater self-awareness, adaptive coping mechanisms, and improved overall functioning in various life domains.


You know, even with adult ADHD, you’re still able to form meaningful relationships and succeed in life. Stay focused on the positives.