Now you see me 😀 Now you don’t
Sorry about that, I couldn’t resist! 😅
Today, we will be talking about object permanence and if there’s a connection of this phenomenon to ADHD.
What is it, you may ask? Well, we’ll get into it in just a minute, but the basic premise is the ability to understand that objects exist even if you don’t perceive them.
Some people suggest that when ADHDers forget to do something, it’s not “just being forgetful” but an example of object impermanence in adults!
Are they right, or are they wrong?
That’s what we’ll discover today, among many other things. Today, you’ll learn:
- Definition of object permanence.
- Its importance and connection to abstract thought.
- ADHD symptoms that seem like object impermanence.
- Similarities and differences between it and ADHD.
- The connection between object permanence and time blindness.
- How being “more than forgetful” can damage your relationships.
- Coping strategies for dealing with a ditzy mind.
Okay, are you ready?
Let’s dig in.
[ADHD Symptoms] ADHD Symptoms That Connect To Object Permanence
Right. Well, before we dive into the depths of today’s subject, first, let’s welcome all the newcomers. If you’re just starting your ADHD journey, have a loved one with this condition, and are curious to learn more, welcome!
For your convenience, I will do a short primer on what ADHD is, its symptoms, and how it can tie into object permanence.
Development of the ADHD Diagnosis
ADHD was initially recognized in the early 20th century, with its symptoms and criteria evolving. Initially, the medical world believed that ADHD is specifically about hyper and restless, not giving much thought to its other manifestations.
That’s also the reason behind the misconception that researchers believe that ADHD is a childhood disorder that one can grow out of. Now we know that ADHD symptoms change with age and that men and women experience it differently.
ADHD Symptoms: Three Main Categories
As our understanding of the condition grew, we discovered that ADHD could manifest in many unexpected forms, such as rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD), a phenomenon in which perceived or actual rejection feels like strong physical pain! 🤯
Again, I encourage you to read up more about the variety of ADHD symptoms if you are curious, but for now, let’s focus on the three main categories:
ADHDers tend to have diminished impulse control because the parts of the brain that are supposed to communicate about it have a noticeable lag1, so people with ADHD have a higher chance of doing something and regretting the moment later.
Like, when you see the collection of novelty pepper shakers on Amazon, and you buy it before your brain can even process what’s happening? That kind of thing.
This is a slight misconception because ADHDers don’t have issues with focus, per se. Rather we have issues focusing on things we don’t completely enjoy. So where a neurotypical person can begrudgingly dive into a cram session before an exam, an ADHDer will send themselves into a rabbit hole of the most asinine Wikipedia articles each time they open a textbook.
That’s because people with ADHD have, on average, lower dopamine levels, meaning that all these things that don’t promise instant gratification are a big no-no.
This symptom is the most relevant to today’s object (im)permanence discussion. From leaving someone on read for months because you simply forgot 💀 to reply to almost burning down your house as you have left the pan burning to new levels of crispiness on the stove, forgetfulness is something that we are all too familiar with.
It’s almost as if the moment we are engrossed in our next momentary hyper fixation, everything else ceases to exist: objects, tasks, relatives…even time.
ADHD forgetfulness feels like a completely new beast from the normal one. It’s not like when you forgot something during the test, it’s almost like a warp to a completely new dimension where nothing exists. Nothing beyond you and whatever that is you are focused on right now.
And precisely this anomalous tendency makes some people think there is a missing link between ADHD and the concept of object impermanence.
But before we discuss this, let’s break down what object permanence is, shall we?
[Object Permanence] What is Object Permanence?
Let’s say you left your phone in another room - shocking, I know - to grab something from the kitchen. Well, that doesn’t mean that your phone ceases existing, right?
You still know it exists and can tell its last-known location even though you cannot see or hold it. This is object permanence.
First coined in the 60s by one certain Jean Piaget, he developed a concept when observing the development of cognitive functions in toddlers. What Mr.Piaget discovered is that object permanence is not innate. Rather, it is something a human “grows into”, if you will, as their brain develops.
For example, a baby a few months old won’t have object permanence. So, when you hide their favorite toy or a plushie, they cry, not because they think you have swindled them. Instead, they legitimately believe you have snapped the toy out of existence as if some dollar-store Thanos.
Why Is It Important to Observe Its Development?
Living without object permanence would be a wild thing.
Imagine experiencing an existential crisis every time you walk out of the apartment, having a panic attack about your family disappearing into the shadow realm. While it’s in the domain of abstract thinking, object permanence applications are far from theoretical.
You could argue that it’s as important as the ability to walk or breathe.
Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, most babies should grasp this concept by the time they’re 9 months old. If they don’t, it might cause concern and a potential visit to your family doctor.
What’s The Link Between Adhd And Object Permanence?
ADHDers are quite a forgetful bunch. You know how when you walk outside and forget to lock the door or put food in the microwave, only to forget about it for three hours because you got distracted by TikTok?
Certain theories suggest that there is a link between object permanence and ADHD. To say that ADHDers legitimately wipe an object’s existence from memory until they are reminded of it by others or passing it by.
It may seem nebulous as it is difficult to distinguish between object permanence and memory lapses as the process is quite selective.
After all, it’s not like a person with ADHD abandons all abstract reasoning in short bursts, right?
So, let’s take a closer look at the proposed intersection of the two.
[Object Permanence vs. ADHD] The Intersection of Object Permanence and ADHD
Now that we have a clearer understanding of ADHD-associated forgetfulness and object permanence let’s examine their differences and similarities.
Similarities of ADHD and Object Impermanence
When a child’s toy is hidden, or they can’t hear, see, or touch their mother, they might begin to believe that these objects no longer exist. Like, that’s it, they’re gone forever.
It doesn’t matter whether the parents have demonstrably hidden the object in front of a child or if the latter misplaced or abandoned their toy elsewhere - the outcome and the conclusion the child derives will be the same.
With ADHD, I think it’s quite similar to how it doesn’t matter what caused me to lose focus. Whether I was distracted by a new fixation, by a friend, or just something happening out there, it didn’t matter. There is a high chance that I will immediately forget whatever I am doing as my mind shifts its focus toward the new happening.
Differences Between ADHD and Object Impermanence
The most important distinction I should draw attention to is that ADHD forgetfulness doesn’t magically erase the capability for abstract thought.
Once again, let’s return to a scenario where an object is taken away from a child right before them. Abstract thought - the ability to think about things that aren’t in your area of perception - would tell you that the object is still there, behind their parent’s back. But as a small child is yet to develop it, they will be distraught as if the object disappeared forever.
I don’t have to tell you that won’t happen with an adult, ADHD or not.
And how about when we misplace things? It’s not that we eliminated those items from this reality. No, we know these objects exist (once we remember them). It’s just we don’t remember the place where we have left them in our never-ending battle against distraction and absent mind.
That reminds me of that one time I have thrown my house keys into the trash for reasons I can’t remember.
Overall, I think it’s safe to say that ADHDers don’t suffer from object impermanence. Although quite similar on the surface, the causes and the specifics are distinct from each other.
Still, that doesn’t answer one important question: why does ADHD forgetfulness feel so different from normal?
I have a pocket hypothesis related to the concept of time blindness.
[Time Blindness] ADHD Time Blindness and Object Permanence
This is quite an extensive topic I will cover in-depth later, but the basic premise of time blindness is the inability to acknowledge or sense the passage of time properly.
Recall that feeling whenever you are deeply engrossed in an activity, and although it feels like only a minute or two have passed, it’s been hours!
Or that nagging “blink and you miss it sensation” where it feels like the past events happened simultaneously yesterday and forever ago?
Although everyone can experience time blindness, ADHDers experience it more frequently than others.
In some situations, it’s a good thing. Like when you have to spend a few hours waiting in a queue and those pass in a flash, right?
But in other situations, it can be quite a bummer when it makes you misplace things or even relationships.
So, why does this happen?
How Time Blindness Can Make Us Lose “Object Permanence”
Now, as a jolly disclaimer, I’d like to say that we’re entering the speculation domain here.
Issues with object permanence aren’t recognized as “true” symptoms of ADHD, so much research hasn’t been done on this subject. So what you read below are just conjectures by a small fry living with ADHD trying to make sense of it all 🥺No bully, please.
Alright. Now consider that our perception of the world is intrinsically connected to time.
School and work shifts start at specific times, there are precise timings for when you should have dinner and go to sleep. We constantly have arrangements and meetings that correspond to a specific time slot, and we observe major events in our life over time (anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas, etc.)
Ultimately, we know when to do things through their relation to time, through a certain internal clock.
So what happens, then, when you can’t perceive time? Why does it matter that “it will take coffee 2 minutes to microwave” or “I’ve received a message from a friend an hour ago, I should reply to them” when the concepts of seconds, hours, and minutes lose meaning?
And while it’s just a neat hypothesis, I think it can explain the “out of sight, out of mind” feeling we ADHDers experience.
Because when you combine “out of sight” and time blindness, then it means there’s no point of reference for an object existing. Only once we snap out of either condition (seeing the object shakes our memory or we snap out of a trance) do we remember how an object relates to the things we were supposed to be doing.
[Impact on Relationships] Object Permanence in ADHD Relationships
We’ve been talking about objects here for a while, but this concept applies not only to just, you know, toys or smartphones.
Without a hint of objectification, people can be objects too! 🧐
So what happens when an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude meets other people?
Well, they tend to disappear. Kind of.
It’s not that ADHDers don’t love our friends, family, and special others. We don’t miss you the way you miss us because we have a skewed perception of time. 😭
At one point, you might forget to reply to a friend’s message. And then you just happen not to message them for weeks or months, but not because you’re upset with them - no! It’s because it’s as if just a moment had passed for us.
But, again, outcomes matter more than intent, so don’t wield your ADHD as an excuse. Sure, it’s nice if people are empathetic and understand that you didn’t mean to ghost them, but it still stings always to be the one reaching out first.
Eventually, one may feel like it’s too exhausting or too high-maintenance always to be the one with reminders and check-ups. So, remember: you do know that you have ADHD, so work around your limitations; don’t ignore them.
And speaking about the ways to cover your weak points. 👀
[Tips for Forgetfulness] Strategies for Dealing with ADHD Forgetfulness
In the olden times, you would have to be a fancy lord or a rich yuppie with a butler or a secretary to remind you of things.
Today, through the power of 🔬 S C I E N C E 🔬, creating automatic reminders and checklists is as easy as pie. And other things!
So, let’s take a quick look at things you can do to make forgetfulness less of a burden.
Create To-Do Lists
Taking control of the unorganized time is one of the easiest and best ways never to forget a thing. You will always know what you should do by planning your day step-by-step, from having breakfast to doing chores and walking a dog. And even if you forget, computers don’t, so it’s always easy to check!
Now you might be thinking: “Isn’t it kinda silly to remind me to eat breakfast?” but you would be surprised how many of my friends with ADHD forget to do that!
Not to mention that structuring your day through to-do lists is also an easy way to deal with ADHD paralysis, in which you’re not doing anything because you can’t decide what you should be doing!
Keep Important Things In Your Vicinity
Well, if it’s “out of sight, out of mind” we are trying to deal with, then… why don’t we just keep important things in sight?
If you forget to take your ADHD meds, just put them somewhere you can’t miss them, like in front of your computer.
Always keep forgetting about your coffee until it gets cold? How about standing around the kitchen while it gets finished? Not like there’s anything too important you can do in 5 minutes, and you can spend those precious minutes stretching!
Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
You can sometimes feel like a dummy if you forget to do something or message someone, but it’s not the end of the world. Treat each mistake as a challenge, a puzzle to figure out how to improve things, instead of a final sentence and judgment of your character.
Besides, relationships aren’t just about the quantity and frequency of messages!
[Numo: ADHD Compaion App] Numo: An App To Tackle Absentmindedness
And speaking of the way to have a judo grip on things you should be doing 👀
As many folks working here are ADHDers, we also wanted to create a companion app that can help us with things that we’re not the best at, including forgetting something important we should have been doing.
So, knowing things that frustrate us in the other ADHD apps we have tried, we decided to create this one-stop for (almost) all ADHD-related issues that we could have thought of.
Well, what’s inside, you may ask?
- ADHD planner - this isn’t your ordinary ADHD planner! It has the power of gamification. Each time you strike a task on your list, you earn points, tricking your mind into delivering those dopiminis and motivating you to tackle one task after another.
- Noise Generator - evidence suggests that listening to static noise can help you regain focus and feel more relaxed. Although no scientific consensus exists on these claims, I’ve found it helpful. So, check it out, maybe it will help you as well.
- Squads and tribes - if there is the feature that I’m most proud of, this has to be it. ADHD is full of uncertainties and wife tales, so it can sometimes be difficult to understand which coping strategies work. And who better to know that than your fellow ADHDers? Here, you can exchange tips, find support, and - most importantly - share heckin’ epic maymays 🕶️
- Useful read - many helpful materials to peruse at your leisure. From tips and tricks to manage ADHD symptoms to coping strategies tutorials, there’s something for everyone here. 📚
If this sounds like a pretty good pitch for you, then we’ll be happy to have you 😌
Alright, let’s recap stuff that we have learned today:
- Object permanence is an element of abstract thought, an understanding that objects don’t stop existing just because you can’t perceive them.
- ADHD symptoms such as forgetfulness can mimic a lack of object permanence, as ADHDers often forget about things they should be doing.
- There is no evidence to suggest that ADHDers have object impermanence, however. The similarities are mostly coincidental, as ADHD doesn’t strip you of abstract thinking.
- Time blindness can potentially explain ADHDers forgetting things. As we can’t always properly perceive the passage of time, we might not realize how much time has passed, thus failing time-sensitive tasks.
- ADHD forgetfulness can hurt our relationships. As we keep forgetting to check up on our friends or reply to their texts, they can get rightfully upset about it.
- To combat your “object impermanence,” try creating to-do lists and keeping important things nearby. That way, you’re less likely to “forget” that they exist.
Well, there you have it. While ADHDers don’t necessarily have “true” object impermanence, that doesn’t mean that our unruly minds can almost make everything else, besides our current hyper fixation, disappear into a mist.
But as frustrating as it gets, don’t give up just yet! With the right attitude and coping strategies, you can easily overcome forgetfulness and master your ADHD.
1 Impulsivity and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder: Subtype Classification Using the UPPS Impulsive Behavior Scale - PMC (nih.gov)