What is Object Permanence?
I want to talk to you today about ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and something called object permanence. Object permanence happens developmentally in your toddler years. Before a toddler gets object permanence, if you were to step behind a door, they are not going to come look for you. You are gone to them. They can’t see you, therefore you aren’t there anymore. That changes once they develop object permanence. With object permanence, when you step behind that door, the toddler comes and looks behind the door and tries to find you because they know you are still there. Just because you’re not within their eyesight doesn’t mean you’ve disappeared.
How ADHD Impacts Object Permanence
People with ADHD tend, in a way, to struggle with object permanence. They know that things are still there, but for the most part, if they’re not right in front of them, or they’re the least bit distracted, or there’s time and space between them, then they will struggle to remember those things.
I have a daughter who has ADHD and it was a challenge for her. I remember how she would struggle with her clothes, for example. I would go into her room, after noticing that she was only wearing three or four or five items of clothing, knowing that she had more to choose from. This went on over and over and over again.
I would go into her room and be like, “How can I help you? This is a mess.” The only things that she was wearing were the things that were out and she could see. I’d offer to help her reset her room, which caused her a lot of anxiety. She felt that she didn’t know where anything was.
The other thing was when I would open up drawers, she’d see something and it was “Oh my goodness, I forgot I had that! I love it!” It was simply a case of ‘Out of sight, Out of mind.’
Being in Relationship with Someone Impacted by ADHD
You might have somebody like that in your life. Frequently losing things is part of ADHD. If you try to help them by organizing their desk or cleaning up their room or moving their phone or their keys, they feel like they won’t know where stuff is.
It’s difficult when you’re talking about mess, but it also can be difficult when you’re talking about relationships because people with ADHD also tend to struggle with maintaining an emotional bond with people who are out of sight out of mind.
This is your friend who you will text and or call and 10 days later they respond. They probably read your text and heard your message. Maybe they even believed that they responded, but got distracted and 10 days later, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, yes! I totally want to come tomorrow night!”
I hear couples complain sometimes. “Well, if I were more important, then they would answer my phone call at work or stop playing video games and talk to me.” I think some of that has to do with hyperfocus and some of it has to do with ‘It’s not in my face right now and so it’s hard for me to remember that we have this emotional bond and I need to tend to it.’ It’s just how their brain is wired and it’s important to know that it’s not personal.
Despite the challenges, there are tools and resources to help couples who are dealing with the impact of ADHD in their relationship.