What Is Object Permanence Anyway?

Sumofus 105

What is object permanence?

The term ‘object permanence’ is used to describe a child’s ability to know that an object exists, even though it can no longer be seen or heard. Object permanence typically develops in children from infancy to around 2 years old. In children with disabilities, object permanence can develop at a later stage. An understanding of object permanence plays a critical role in the communicative development of children with disabilities. This is because when a child demonstrates an understanding of object permanence, it means they are able to hold a mental (or symbolic) representation of an object in their mind, even when the object can’t be seen. This symbolic thinking overlaps with language development, which is the verbal/gestural symbolic representation of objects, actions etc.

How can speech pathology help?

It is important to help children develop their understanding of object permanence in order to build their vocabulary and social skills. For example, if a child does not yet understand that an object or person exists when they can’t be seen, then it will be difficult for the child to understand the importance of labelling that object and person, and therefore their language will not develop. Speech pathology activities can help your child learn about object permanence, in order to help your child to remain regulated. For example, being able to understand that you still exist even if you leave them at childcare, or that their favourite toy exists even if it has been removed.

Some Things To Try At Home This Week


is a great way to help your child understand object permanence. If your child acts surprised when you take the cloth off your face, it indicates that they are surprised you are still there and therefore that they have not yet quite developed object permanence.

Hide and Seek

provides opportunities to help your child develop object permanence understanding, as well as developing their social interaction skills. Your child may need support to play Hide and Seek, so you get another adult or child involved. For example, one adult is on a ‘team’ with your child, whilst the other one hides. Alternatively, one adult helps your child hide whilst you look for them.

Photo Family/Carer Books

help your child understand that important people in their life still continue to exist even if they can’t be seen. Make a small photo album with labels of people’s names (e.g. Mum, Dad, childcare carer, speech pathologist etc.). Go through the book with your child and talk about those people.

Posting Games

Use a tissue or shoebox with a small hole cut in the top as a post box. Use motivating images such as family, animals, letters, numbers etc. for posting. Consistently use the language ‘All Gone!’ and the gesture for ‘All Gone/Finished’ as you post an image. When you open the lid, make a big deal of finding the images – ‘Here they are!’

Finished Box

Children often find it distressing when preferred activities are removed. Often this can be due to the fact that they do not understand that the object still exists. Make a ‘finished’ box using black and white checks (like a racing flag) to help your child understand that the object still exists; it is just out of use for a time. Again, use ‘all gone!’ and finished gesture consistently when putting objects in finished box. When your child is learning about the finished box, only leave the object in the box for a very short time before bringing it out to play with again.

Bd Paper Plane

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