Chronological Age Really Doesn't Matter

If I had a dime for every time a parent came into the office and said something along the lines of, “my child’s ____ years old – (s)he should know better/be able to do this, I’d be able to build our dream therapy “office” without needing any financing.  If I had a dime for every time my husband or I said (usually under our breath), “You’re ____ years old, you should know better/be able to do this”, I’d be able to offer free therapy in my new dream “office” to anyone who needed it and still be able to put food on the table.

For some reason, we’ve grown accustomed to thinking that chronological age provides some sort of magical compass that imparts our children with direction and skills.  Yes, there are general developmental stages and skills that are learned.  And I suppose that chronological age can occasionally give us a clue as to what developmental stage we’d expect a child to be in.  In truth, however, I don’t know many neurotypical children who follow all the age criteria for development, and neurodiverse kiddos often aren’t even in the ballpark.

Development disregards age.  Some 2-year-olds can’t talk.  Some 2-year-olds can read.  Some 14-year-olds can’t organize their locker.  Some 14-year-olds can manage a household.  Some 12-year-olds can’t remember to shut the door and hate physically writing, but can craft the most amazing stories if they’re allowed to do so verbally. 

Yes, we need to pay attention to developmental needs and stages.  Skills are cumulative.  A child needs to develop the foundational tasks before moving onto more complex ones.  And this applies in all areas of development.  And all areas don’t always develop in synchrony, so we need to pay attention to each specific need and area and meet the child where they are.

When we assume that age has everything to do with development, we set up unhelpful and even harmful expectations.  We grow frustrated with the child, assuming they are willfully choosing not to “act their age”.  We inadvertently (or sometimes advertently) shame them for falling short of a mark that they are obviously incapable of reaching.  We give them frustrating, impossible tasks and then get frustrated when they can’t complete them.

I don’t expect all 39-year-olds to be capable of the same things.  I don’t expect that a 27-year-old who is still in college and single will be anywhere near the same developmental place as a married 27-year-old with 3 kids.  Life, wiring, experiences change us and guide our developmental track.  Chronological age really doesn’t matter.