Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Acting Your Age

I thought I'd posted something about this ages ago, but it seems like I only thought about posting it.
A lot of developmentally disabled people are treated like they aren't really whatever age they are, instead, they're younger. Other disabled people are treated this way sometimes, but it's much more overt when used on developmentally disabled people. Sometimes, especially when the age they supposedly are 'mentally' is extremely young and they're adolescent or older, there is a strong feeling of revulsion associated, as if anyone who acts like a baby without really being a baby is disgusting.
A big part of it, that I see, is the idea that there's only one way to act your age, and that's by acting normal. Even with ages that are often negatively stereotyped, such as adolescence, it is often seen as sad if someone is acting more 'childlike' than like an NT teenager.
But they are their own age. They just don't have the typical way of behaving at that age. Many Down Syndrome kids around 5-8 years or so, for example, have a certain common way of looking and acting, so that it's fairly easy to recognize a DS kid that age as opposed to a different age. Not all DS kids are that way, but most DS kids in that age range that I've met do. But the way 5-8 year old DS kids are is different from 5-8 year old NT kids. They tend to be more playful, more sociable, more adult-oriented, speak less well, are smaller and are less independent. Some of these differences somewhat resemble younger NT kids, maybe around 2-4 years old. But they aren't really like 2-4 year old NT kids, but like 5-8 year old DS kids.

Edit: I uploaded an edit of my changeling lullaby video here:

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Blogger stevethehydra said...

Yes... this is a big thing, there was a thread on Wrong Planet a while back about it, with someone there coining the term "Age Queer" (an analogue, i guess to genderqueer) as a self-definition for not "feeling" the age you are "supposed to be" (actually i don't know if the term already existed elsewhere, but it was the first time i'd seen it used)...

"Mental age" is a complete bullshit concept, as Amanda Baggs has written several times, most notably here, but the idea of "age-appropriateness", which seems to have at least somewhat superseded it, is equally problematic IMO - for example, when i did volunteer work with learning disabled kids/teenagers (about 8-10 years ago, well before my own diagnosis), they were encouraged to "act age-appropriately", ie dressing and acting as close as possible to their typical age peers - which is arguably better than the former attitude of treating them like children into adulthood, refusing to acknowledge their sexualities, etc, but would result in things like them being told off for having interests that were "too young" for them, considered "inappropriate" to express affection in what were considered "childish" ways, not allowed to buy clothes that looked too "childish", etc (whereas a non-disabled teenager wearing, say, clothes with a pre-school kids' cartoon character on them might get a bit of piss-taking, but would probably be seen as just being "camp" or "ironic", and certainly wouldn't be told they were not allowed to buy/wear it... well, unless they had really crazily authoritarian religious parents or something) - I don't see how it harms anyone to let people act more "childlike" than their typical age peers, if they want...

8:22 PM  
Blogger Tera said...

Along with what shiva said, "mental age" is just a way of grouping people that disability "professionals" came up with to make things easier for themselves. I was reading a book called "Mental Retardation in America: A Historical Reader." It argues that "feeble-mindedness" wasn't pathologized until the 1800s, when scientists suddenly thought they might be able to prevent it. ("Genetics" was a really new science then, and eugenics was getting big, too.)

So all the sudden you had this group of people who needed "treatment." And professionals needed ways to categorize them to "treat" them. The professionals decided that since they already categorized non-disabled children by their ages (e.g. a two-year-old behaves and thinks like this, an eight-year-old behaves and thinks like that), the easiest way to categorize the "feeble-minded" was by what age they were most like. The assumption being that they were "most like" younger children.

So "mental age" isn't a fact at's just a convenient category to put people in. (Convenient for the professionals, of course).

Tera, who has a lot of interests which are not "age-appropriate."

9:29 PM  
Blogger Ivan said...

Hey there.......

Blink 182's song "Whats My Age Again?" comes to mind when I think about this subject. What the lead singer is talking about in his song is very trivial and silly compared to what you're blogging about, Ettina, but the whole point of the song is to convey the idea that "acting your age is overrated."

I realize that you are blogging about something a little bit different.....namely, kids being looked down upon or said to be acting mentally younger because they are developmentally disabled....well....the abled community is taking itself too seriously and being too elitist when judging those kids to be acting younger than they actually are.

There's my comparison.....

I like the song I referenced,'s a nice rebellious song to being serious all the time.


9:59 PM  
Blogger Axinar said...

Yes, at the extremely high end of the spectrum they start to call it "maturity issues" ... :)

9:47 AM  

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