Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"REAL" AGE

Dear Persons,

If you have a child or children, do you remember when your first baby was a newborn? Remember that feeling that your life had changed irrevocably and the terror of, well, anything and everything?

Then your child starts to become more mobile and you wonder, what was actually so hard about that baby who couldn’t go anywhere or reach beyond the ends of their arms???

Around this stage, you may also encounter the added bonus of “non-typical development,” which adds a whole ‘nother level to the process. 

Next, usually, your child enters the school system and a whole new batch of fears kicks in, right? (People who are reading this from the perspective of the child and not the parent — or from both positions — may even have memories of this time.) What was so, sooooo hard about the days when you could kiss every boo-boo and make it go away? When learning consisted of stacking blocks and finger painting rather than specific and regimented tasks that might or might not be suited to your child’s learning style, abilities, and/or neurology? When social interactions consisted of taking or sharing playground trucks, healthy snacks, and dress up costumes? 

And then, really suddenly, people, the end of high school looms. I actually find this next stage of transition the very most terrifying of all (I know - aren't I encouraging?). 

Over the years, as I have gotten to know my first child as a human being, my love has grown exponentially from the more-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined level I felt for him as a newborn to There Are No Words. 

And, over those same years, my son has grown — but not in the same ways as his typical peers. He was a giant baby, 110th percentile (which means only 1 in 300 were his size), but didn’t talk much until he was at least three. His apparent physical age far surpassed his actual physical age. People would think he was four or five when he was two, and wondered why he didn’t speak. When he was four and we went to China to bring his sister home, people thought he was ten. They laughed hysterically to see this ginormous child in a stroller (it was 104-degrees and walking was sensorially too much).

Now, intellectually, my son is probably quite a ways ahead of most of his peers. Hormonally, he is right on par. But socially, or common sense-wise? He’s far, far younger. 

We recently visited friends in Cambridge, and G (16) played at length with an eight year old who is also on the spectrum. The other kid’s parents also had a 15 year old, but we all agreed the younger child was a better fit because their 15 year old was “much older” than G. It was wonderful, if inevitably slightly painful,  to be having this conversation with people who very much approached the whole matter from a perspective of total equality and inclusion. 

My love for my second child, my daughter, has grown similarly; and she, too, has grown —  in most ways typically, but she has her areas of difference as well. For example, she was in diapers until she was four years old, which I found exasperating until we figured out that — because she had been in an orphanage — she “needed to be a baby a little bit longer.” When we figured this out, it really helped her to have words for her feelings - and she learned to ask for other things that helped her in this regard, such as being carried or held in her baby sling (she was still tiny well into elementary school). 

My daughter’s emotional age seems quite a bit younger than her social age, since she is the most socially-adept and -powerful person I know. Her common sense “age”? A million. 

How can we assess and address actual, “real” age in effective, accepting ways? 

I recently heard about “the two-thirds rule:” apparently, many people on the spectrum may be seen — as compared to their peers — as developmentally about 2/3 of their biological age. This notion helps in some ways, as I observe my son’s atypical development and hope that he will eventually be able to achieve independence and everything else he wants, much of which seems very far away right now. It makes sense for me, too, since because of my divergent neurology (and perhaps also because of childhood and adult trauma) I only started to integrate and understand some very basic things about life — things most people “get” much earlier — in middle age. But it also seems like a massive generalization and perhaps might also be perceived as a little patronizing. And I don’t think most developmental models incorporate areas in which my son truly excels way beyond most teens, like, among other things, kindness and compassion.  




Once again, I don’t have “the answer.” Certainly, estimating age for a bunch of different categories like those I discuss above (intellectual, social, practical/common sense, hormonal, biological, physical, emotional, developmental, compassion/kindness) and then taking an average of these to estimate someone’s “real” age won’t work. As well, every individual is different, and every stage of life is different for every individual…We might well view age as very amorphous and multiple, and even refer to individuals’ “ages” instead of a single age.

What I do know is that it’s important to take a nuanced approach to “real” age. We need to celebrate and presume competence in areas of maturity and independence, build strengths in areas that are still developing, and accept that some of us will always have differences - whether they render us more advanced or less so - in terms of our skills and capacities. 

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama



Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

13 comments:

  1. Yes! Just last night, an acquaintance asked me about my son's general abilities compared to his actual age. She was trying to understand a bit more about autism, and thought that would be a way to get there - but, it's an impossible question because my kid is all over the map, depending on, as you said, which "area" you're really asking about. All people are so complex, and spectrum people especially so! Age-Shmage...
    Thanks for writing about this, it's good stuff.

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    1. EXACTLY!

      Thanks so much for reading.

      Complicated brains also seem to take longer to "gel;" at least that's been my personal experience. But, like my son, I was reading at adult level in second grade...It was just all the OTHER stuff that's quite baffling ;)

      Age-schmage!

      Love,
      FSM

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  2. Here's to a nuanced approach and to celebrating the strengths while accepting the differences. Your compassion and wisdom are far older than your age... :)
    mf

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    1. Um, thank you, I THINK ;)

      Yes, here's to that, dear, dear MF.

      LOOOVE,
      FSM

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  3. As usual, right on target! I love the 2/3 rule, that really applies to my guy on the higher end of the spectrum. Thanks for this!

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    1. Thank YOU! I find it helpful too - just with the caveats mentioned...

      Love,
      FSM

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  4. The first time I saw that people could be all ages and none and there was nuance was when I was reading Jim McDonald's work. He talked a lot about "social age".

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    1. Thanks for reading!

      Interesting...Will have to check that out.

      FSM

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  5. Im going through this right now... My son just turned 13 much to the shock of even his grandparents as they thought he was much younger, yet he is tall for his age so people expect even more...and in some ways he is older- his ability to philosophize about life is way beyond his peers but other stuff...Then there is my daughter who is almost 15 and people keep asking me when she is going to get her learners permit and stop playing with dolls. It is such a complex issue because again, when she meets peers her age she is both WAY beyond them in emotional intelligence and what she knows, but way behind them in the practical milestones people expect. This was easier for me when the kids were little but I find society and even family seems to put more pressure on teens...like "Ok your time is up to play at being a special needs child - we now expect more..." or like they thought they would grow out of it...even the people whom I thought understood.
    For myself - I am also an odd mix. I think I look younger than I am but also sound older than I am...if that makes sense? I can relate to people way older or way younger than me...sometimes I relate more to a child than an adult or vice versa depending on the circumstances. Thanks for writing this! Oh and P.S.- I would not mind sometime doing this sensory blog hop thing again:) I am so glad people still blog- its still my favourite forum:)

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    1. Kmarie-

      Sniff. Your comment should really be a sort of addendum to my post!

      I wonder if this phenomenon is exacerbated by us, as non-typical mothers (I, too, prefer to spend my time with the elderly or the very young. They judge less, right? And if you haven't developed some perspective and a great sense of humor by your elder years...), raising these children. From what I know of you, our values are very similar - and our children sound quite similar too, in that they have retained a childlike innocence while also being very philosophical and ethical...

      What if we lived in a society that valued these traits????? Can you imagine???


      Thanks and love,
      Full Spectrum Mama

      P.S. DEFINITELY do the hop again!!

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  6. THAT society would be amazing! Yes let me know when you do the next one maybe? Thank you:)

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  7. I enjoyed reading your post. I was just thinking about actual age the other day. I had never heard the concept of 2/3 very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing this month and for reading my post and leaving your sweet comments always!

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