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Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Age Appropriate

Age appropriate is one of those phrases I've got a complicated relationship with.

On the one hand, I'm an educator (I teach math both online and offline, working with students from about 4th grade through college. I've had 8-9 year old students and I've had students older than me. Plenty of expectations I have for my college students are not age appropriate for my 8-9 year old students. I'm not going to expect 8 and 9 (or really 10  or 11) year old students to sit in one place and focus for 90 minutes straight with little to no humor. (I don't think it's a great idea with the college students either, but I think they are more likely to be capable of it.)

Because of that, I think the concept of age appropriateness can be useful for defending children from unreasonable expectations.

On another hand, I'm Autistic, and I interact with other Autistic people. I know how "age appropriate" can be used as a weapon against us, and there are a couple ways this happens.

Way the first: The concept of age appropriate is used to control what we are "allowed" to show interest in. That is, when an autistic teen or adult shows interest in something aimed at younger children, we might get "redirected" to a more "age appropriate" interest, which is one more piece of the pattern where we're not really allowed to like things, at least not safely. (Other pieces of that pattern are having everything we admit to liking used as a reward for acting more neurotypical or taken away when we act autistic/do something the staff doesn't like.)

This can also go in the other direction, where a person is told they aren't old enough for whatever they're interested in. (I had a teacher who was very concerned that I had the math interest and ability to be using exponents and roots in first grade, and there were attempts by the school to get me to stop doing math that was too advanced to be "age appropriate." I don't think this direction (alone, at least) is as common as the other, but it exists.

Way the second: The concept of age appropriate is used to "show" that we have a "mental age" corresponding to whatever interest of ours has the youngest target audience. Here, the interest of the teen or adult in the (usually) "younger" topic is used as evidence against their competence. Rather than being a teen or adult with an interest (like how the graduate supervisor at the technology help desk really liked My Little Pony and was also known to be a graduate student who knew how to solve computer and internet problems), they are treated as children in a teen or adults body. It's a pretty gross concept. (Even if you're working with the tools typical of a younger person, you've got more experience working with them -- see this crayon art as an example!)

These two problems get combined as well. There are two steps here. First, an interest that's more common among younger people is used as evidence of "mental age." Then, this arbitrary mental age/developmental level is used to restrict what else the person is allowed to show interest in, or what else they are exposed to. An example of this would be a student who enjoys Blues Clues not getting access to the general curriculum for their age, because someone who likes Blues Clues must actually be on level with a pre-schoooler.  I use Blues Clues as my example because I liked the show well into middle school, and no that did not make me secretly a five year old in a middle schooler's body. This also gets used as justification for not providing education on sexual or reproductive topics, since an actual 3-5 year old shouldn't need to know that stuff yet.

The "ages" chosen for this purpose are arbitrary. Remember that interests have ranges of ages where they are more common, and remember that a person can have multiple interests, with different intended audiences between them -- whichever age is most convenient to use can probably be "justified" in this manner. Besides, "uneven" development, in comparison to the order skills and interests usually develop for neurotypical people, is pretty much a hallmark of autism. I haven't had a single coherent (neuronormative!) developmental level since I was about 6 months old, and I don't think that's unusual! That means we're essentially using a trait of autistic development, that we don't follow the same paths or patterns neurotypical people do, in order to show that we're actually small children. (Ever notice that they don't do this with the (neuronormatively) most advanced of our skills? Anyone argue I was really older because I could do more advanced mathematics? Nope!)

But back to something like the first hand, the idea of things being age appropriate or not can be used as a defense against unreasonable expectations for disabled kids, and as a defense against inappropriate therapies. For example, intensive behavioral intervention (IBI) and things based on applied behavioral analysis (ABA) often expect 40 hours a week of just the one therapy out of kids who are 2-5 years old. That's not age appropriate. Sometimes, pointing out that it's not age appropriate to expect any kid that young to manage such a schedule gets people to think about their expectations.

When I hear age appropriate in the context of autism or general disability, I don't expect that it's going to be used as a defense against ableism. Usually it's going to be the ableism (control of interests, evidence of mental age, and combinations of the two.) But I think it's important to remember that (and how) we can turn the concept around to defend ourselves from the ableist nonsense it usually justifies. 


  1. Sometimes I use "developmentally appropriate" for the defensive version. As in,

    "it's not developmentally appropriate to expect a 2 year old to sit at a table for that long" or

    "it's not developmentally appropriate to punish a 4 year old after school for hitting her teacher in school 5 hours earlier."

  2. Another thing; one can like something a younger kid would like but get something more adult out of it.
    Spoiler alert for Disney's Frozen:
    Take Disney's Frozen, for example; younger NT kids may see Elsa, but mostly get a kick out of Ana's story and how she falls in love with Kristoff and tries to persuade Elsa to end the eternal winter. An autistic or otherwise neurodivergent adult, on the other hand, might watch that same movie, pay closer attention to Elsa's much darker story than the kid (and possibly be moved either to tears or close to them by the song "Let It Go"), and see a powerful tour de force rich with metaphors for living with traits that they have been forced to hide and been attacked for, as well as what happens when you finally get accepted and don't have to hide anymore. That same adult may also understand the deeper messages behind Ana's story and realize that Hans is a highly manipulative shithead like many people who end up abusing their spouses. In fact, the adult might realize that before Hans openly reveals how bad he is (like be sure he tried to kill Elsa on purpose, for instance). How many 4-year-olds see any movie that way, even a children's movie?
    This may be true to a lesser extent even of kid's shows. Take LazyTown, for example. Little kids see Sportacus as a superhero and Robbie Rotten as a villain, but I see Robbie as a bad little schoolyard bully boy type person of indeterminate age in a man's body, and Sportacus as a friendly and hyperactive, allistic but possibly neurodivergent, character who needs to move so bad his stims consist of Olympic-level exercises and for whom sugar is Kryptonite rather than the pleasure food it is for most people. I also think, given what happens during the episode in which Sportacus "takes a vacation" from exercise at the request of the children, that he would not last 5 minutes of ABA therapy, given that it is his habit to sneak exercise the minute the kids turn their backs.
    Speaking of which, I sort of head canon Sportacus as being a person with SPD who was raised in a health-obsessed family, and they tried and failed to curtail his movements because he was too much even for them; by the time he was 8 or so, they simply accepted him.
    You know, that might be a good story to tell kids with SPD, so they don't feel alone.

    1. Yes!

      They might very well feel Sportacus is just like me especially for the seekers.

      My favourite LazyTown person is Stephanie.

    2. Very, very true. (I know I get different things from Diane Duane's Young Wizards series at 23 than I did at 16, and from Tamora Pierce's various series at 23 than I did at 11 when I first found Alanna: The First Adventure.)

  3. I was in an "autism practicum" program in college, and as part of it spent some time in an ABA-focused preschool program as an assistant aide. I could go into MANY things I wouldn't do if I were in charge of that program, but one that stuck out to me was when I found out from one of the aides that before I started working there the classroom had one of those wallpaper borders with the alphabet written on it, but they'd taken it down. When I asked why, I was told that some of the kids had been "stimming" on the alphabet so they took it down (I'm not 100% clear on what that means -- I guess they were reading letters and getting distracted from whatever they were supposed to be doing educationally at the time). I asked the aide if they'd considered teaching the kids (mostly non-speaking) to read/write so they could communicate better, if they were that personally motivated to work with letters, and the aide told me that "4-year-olds don't read," and that we didn't want the kids reading ahead of their peers when they eventually went to mainstream kindergarten (which was the goal of this specific preschool program). Sigh. :(

    1. :( And yet if they weren't autistic kids there would probably be no problem with them reading that early. I learned to read in kindergarten when I was 4. My younger brother and sister both learned from my early reader books from that before they started school. It's awful when other people decide what someone else is or should be capable of.

    2. I'm autistic but folks didn't know it when I was 4 and they were totally fine with my reading then (when they believed I actually could, which was iffy since I hated reading aloud.)

    3. I am not sure the aide has the same understanding of stimming that autistics do. Sure, one can stim with letters, but merely reading them does not count as a stim. I mean, I know that it is wrong to stop someone from stimming, but the reason I argue against using the term "stimming" in the context that aide did is because that word was clearly used to discredit the idea that those kids were actually reading. I bet that if one of those aides caught a kid spelling every character aloud on an emergency sign, right down to the commas, the periods, and the apostrophes (as I did once when I was little), they would still have used the term "stimming" to dismiss the fact that the kids were actually reading. Besides, even if they were stimming, there's nothing wrong with that; stims should only be replaced with other stims if they are dangerous and/or unnecessarily disruptive, and they should only be stopped altogether if one's life depends on standing still. There may be cases in which people are pressured to stop stimming altogether for other reasons (i.e. church services, concerts) but it would make sense for those rules to be relaxed so people are allowed to stim quietly in those situations where quietness is needed (i.e. concerts) and with low to no visibility when at a ceremony that depends on visual image (i.e. a wedding). The only reason, other than life depending on it, to curtail stemming altogether would be as part of a very specific cultural traditional art (i.e. geisha performances, performing "statues") that absolutely requires staying still and/or silent at least part of the time for the aesthetic - Western weddings do not fall under this category as they can be easily adapted in a number of ways.
      And yes, not allowing someone to do things "ahead" is common in special ed programs - one teacher I know of in middle school once put a math sheet in front of us, explained the problems one by one, and told any person that if they did any problems ahead (that is, they did problems that the teacher had not yet gotten to explaining and working through in the lecture), they were to erase them and wait until the teacher went through them to write down the answer (again).

    4. "And yet if they weren't autistic kids there would probably be no problem with them reading that early."
      THIS! In our teen years there was a commercial advertisement we saw for some early-childhood reading tutorial that boasted that their program had managed to teach pre-speech infants how to read.

  4. I am a mom to a 12 year old autistic boy and where I find the concept to be used is when figuring if a behavior problem is misbehavior (i.e. within the control of the child) or a lack of ability (i.e. the kid is overwhelmed).

    See, most expectations around discipline revolve around the concept of age appropriate skills around executive functioning - i.e. it is age appropriate (but not condoned) for a 2 year old to hit out of frustration, but not a 12 year old... It is age appropriate for a 5 year old to refuse to engage with your weird relatives or be picky about food, but not a 15 year old...

    But people on the spectrum have their own developmental paths, and so applying "age appropriate" expectations on behavior can go terribly wrong (both in terms of over and under expectations). But when dealing with mainstream schools and even the justice system, these expectations are all around us, and woe to the kid who violates them...


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