The Age Gap

One of the most frustrating parts of raising a child on the spectrum for me is what I call the “age gap”. I have spoken about this before but it is something I struggle with everyday. I constantly have to remind  myself to look below the surface before I react to whatever is going on. 

Please keep in mind that I’m speaking only to the experience I’m having with Gavin. In the Lost and Tired family, Gavin it the best example of this phenomenon. Please don’t take this as a blanket statement about all Autistic persons. Everyone is different and so this may not apply to your situation. However, I will say that I have heard from many people who are dealing with the exact same issues. 

I wish there was some kind of magical truth mirror or something. This mirror would show a true reflection of who you are on the inside.

I think that many people aren’t aware of this age gap.. They aren’t aware that with kids like Gavin, looks can and will be decieving. You look at Gavin and you see a 11 year old boy throwing fit or melting down when he doesn’t get his way. However, there is quite so much more going on underneath the surface. While Gavin does have control over himself in many of these behavioral situations, this gap in age plays a huge role in his decision making process.

If you stuck Gavin in front of this special mirror or looked at him through a magic lens, you would see a small child not 11 year old boy. Gavin is emotionally stunted at about 2 or 3 years of age. His intelligence far surpasses that of a 11 year old boy but inside he is only 2 or 3 years old, emotionally.

Symbolic of the “age gap”

In other words, when he’s stressed out or overwhelmed he will react like a 2 or 3 year old would. So in a sense he’s an 11 year old toddler as developmentally, that’s about where he’s at. This is something that I find myself struggling with everyday.

It’s really easy to forget this when he’s in the midde of a meltdown. I tend to want to hold his accountable as an 11 year old for his behavioral choices.

The problem with that is he simply isn’t 11 years old developmentally.

For me, It’s far to easy to see someone that is just being difficult or uncooperative instead of seeing the situation for what it is. If Gavin were actually 3 years old then this behavior wouldn’t be such a hard pill to swallow. It’s age appropriate for a 3 year old have meltdowns and tantrums.

When you see Gavin melting down it’s pretty easy to assume things about him. However, the reality is far more complicated than that. It’s never a good idea to assume things about kids with Autism. While Gavin is probably not the purest example of this simply because of everything else he has going, I think the principle is the same. Many kids on the spectrum have a sizable gap between their emotional and chronological ages. Hence the developmental delay of Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

As a society and even as parents to these amazing, yet challenging kids, we should try to keep this in mind.

It’s really important to keep perspective when dealing with these very special children because it will help you to better understand their behavior.

Disciplining your child is a very difficult part of being a special needs parent. Trying to find that balance between real world accountability and what they can actually be held accountable for is a never ending struggle.

Perhaps this will give you a fresh perspective on things. Maybe it will help you to consider more age appropriate ways of addressing the inappropriate behavior. If nothing else it’s something to think about.

It’s a good idea to learn your child’s emotional age as it will give you valuable insight into their world. You can gain a better understanding of what makes them tick and also what drives their behavioral decisions. Problem behaviors still need to be addressed and there should be consequences, but you will have a better understanding of why it’s happening, insight into more age appropriate disciplinary actions and even how to avoid some of these behaviors going forward.

Just some food for thought……..  

 

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Rob Gorski
Father to 3 boys with #Autism, 1 with Fragile Health. Award winning blogger, techy and advocate. #AutismDad @GuardianLocate
Rob Gorski

Rob Gorski

Father to 3 boys with #Autism, 1 with Fragile Health. Award winning blogger, techy and advocate. #AutismDad @GuardianLocate

0 thoughts on “The Age Gap

  • January 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm
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    I loved reading this. My daughter is only 3 but I can already see the age gap between her and her typically developing peers growing and growing. Learning to look at each individual according to their situation instead of judging them by their age is a difficult but Godlike characteristic. The Bible says:   “…Do
    not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the
    outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

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  • January 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm
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    I never knew how to describe my sons emotional issues so this was great!  If you don’t mind I will be using you “age gap” to help explain it.  Thanks!

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  • January 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm
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    My son is now 15 and I also could have written a similar article. I can’t tell you how many times people have made comments about my sons meltdowns while in public. People are just afraid of what they don’t understand but with the ever increasing rate of children being diagnosed with ASD you would think people would be more sensitive to this. Keep telling your story and I’ll keep telling mine and we can change the level of awareness one person at a time.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm
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    I also see this with my 10 year old son.  When he is calm, he can be very mature and responsible.  Well above his chronological age.  He is also very intelligent.  And, at 4’10”, he is a tall 10.  So, it really comes as a surprise to most people when something causing extreme anxiety in him and he has a meltdown or tantrum.  In those cases, he acts about 3.  His executive functioning is also closer to 3.  He frequently does things without any thought of the consequences.  So, it is really hard to deal with that “age gap”.

    My 7-year-old son often seems to be the “older” brother, even though he is MUCH smaller.  He is small for his age.  But, his executive functioning is probably above average for his age.  So, it makes the age gap even more apparent.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 5:08 pm
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    Oh my, I struggle with the same thing with my developmentally delayed son. I have a tendency to forget that he is really not age-appropriate. I have hurt his feelings more than one time because of this. It is difficult, and my son is a really big kid, even for his chronological age and this makes it even worse when we are being judged by outsiders.  Good luck to you!

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  • January 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm
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    @NeverSubmit@xanga – You are dead on!!!! They are not immature, they simply feel emotions 100 times amplified than us, and then some have trouble expressing their emotions…and regulating them. And as far as punishing or holding them accountable for things…. is not a way I choose to approach my son.  I have found that almost everything has to be taught, he is visual, and he has a theory of mind which he thinks we all know what he is thinking, I know this, cuz he will ask for something even if I am at the other end of the house…as though I know what he wants no matter if I am there or not.  So for instance, a time out chair, he would not understand why he would have to sit, in this chair rather that chair… I find it WAY more effective to reward positive behavior than to punish negative…Kind of like Error less learning… you show them the right way of doing something over and over.. giving them the answer, then they can’t get it wrong… this works for us… not saying it will work for all…
    Just wanna say my son is 5 yrs old, and has never had a tantrum, or has never shown any aggression…he is extremely affectionate and looks for hi-5 or hugs when he does well… (he is at 31month range for social skills) academically he is 5.. he speaks using  echolalia mostly, he does have spontanious speech but it’s rare..and he, like all the people with Autism, is AMAZING!!!

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  • January 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm
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    Never can hear this enough – my son Aidan is going to be 11 this March and my husband and I struggle with this daily.  It really is a tough road to walk when you are not sure how to hold him accountable and when.  Thanks for the share.  It’s always good to know we are not alone.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 3:28 pm
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    Thanks for posting your thoughts on this.  I share your struggle with my 12 year old, who is not like the average 12 year olds in his grade.  He is much younger developmentally and gets along quite easily with younger kid.  One therapist we worked with said that the average developmental span with spectrum kids is 4 years younger than peers.  That helped us put a frame around that issue.  As we struggle, I think we have to face our own discomfort of parenting children who are “much more inside than out” as you put it.  Our culture values external presentation, and our kids do not conform to societal expectations.  That can be very hard to live with because our validation is limited by that.  People can say that they don’t need validation by others or external recognition, but I don’t believe that’s all true.  We try to cope by surrounding ourselves with loving and supportive people who love our son for all his gifts. 

    Remember to breathe and repeat positive affirmations!!

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  • January 27, 2012 at 3:14 pm
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    Hey I know exactly how that is I have a 23 year old Aspie guy who is emotionally 10-12. He still loves his Disney stuff on TV. loves the simple stuff, but boy can be a 23 year old when he does his job parking cars for either his church ministry or at Raging Waters.. They are great human beings regardless and when you

    realize that no one matters but you and your family….then when they meltdown people staring won’t bother you anymore…and if they stare let em. You know you’re doing what you need to do for your family and yours will always be more challenging than others because of the dynamics of who lives with you!! Take care!! 

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  • January 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm
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    What I have noticed is that kids get this. When I take my grandson out, say, to the library, and he’s around other kids interacting, without fail the first thing they ask him is, “How OLD are you?” He answers, without eye contact naturally—then they all go about playing like they were before. I’m talking about normal play, not meltdowns here. That’s another story altogether. Sometimes I wonder if his teachers at school get the age gap factor.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 2:35 pm
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    My son also has an age gap not as spread apart of what you or going through but there is still that gap. When he was younger (newborn til 7) he never was one to show emotion unless someone touch him, it could just be a hand on the back or his aide holding his hand to get him to follow her. Some of the kids in his room would ask him to play and he would not responed to them. I wanted him to play with others and to overcome his sensor skills. I as told to use to key words for him ( frist and then ). When he would pull away from someone or not react to a situation we would say frist you do this ( what ever we was working on ) then you can do this ( it would be that of which he wanted to do). It worked great for us he now interacts with others. We use this same thory as or focal point to get him to complet any and all task, I teached preschool for 4 years. I use the same thory with them and the parents was surprise how I was able to get them to sit long enough to do a story and lesson,which our lesson always inclued a craft project. I hope this helps you, Good luck on finding what works for you and your family. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 2:15 pm
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    I can relate, my 6 year old son has PDD-NOS and has tantrums sometimes.  However, I don’t think it is accurate to correlate it with emotional immaturity.  The outcome (tantrum) is the same, but I don’t think the causes (per se) are related.   Emotional immaturity simply means the person (toddler) has not learned how to control his reactions yet. And with maturity, he will learn.   And the following is how I look at it with the autism spectrum: those brain connections that enable a person to control his reactions aren’t even there, so the person must learn ways AROUND the usual connections in order to control his reactions.  The long way around, so to speak.  I think the best way to do this is through therapy.  Basically a way to control the reaction (perhaps leaving the room, as you said, or a variety of other things) needs to be found and the autistic person must practice these over and over and over again.  Once they practice enough, it can become easier for them to control it this way on their own. (That last sentence I don’t have any experience with, my son isn’t quite there yet, but this is what I’m hoping will result as we practice, and as he gets older).

    So I don’t think it’s emotional immaturity exactly, it’s finding ways to create long-ways-around connections in the brain when the usual connections don’t exist.  Which of course takes a lot longer than simply a toddler growing up.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm
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    Thank you for this article. It describes my 7 (almost 8) yr old granddaughter perfectly. We just had an episode last night that was a perfect example. I took her to a fundraiser for her school, a fast food restaurant, near our house. While she was there she was good as gold but almost as soon as we left that changed. First, she wanted to go to the movie theater next door to see if any of the kids she knew from school were there. Luckily, the principal was still at the restaurant so I took her back inside and asked him to tell her that none of the kids were at the movie theater. It worked like a charm but as we were walking to the car she saw the Nail Salon right in front of where we were parked and wanted to go in and have her toenails painted. When I said NO there was a full blown meltdown. I finally got her to get in the car by telling her I would do it when we got home.

    She is also a kid who is tall for her age so looks older than she is which makes it even worse when she has a tantrum. The other issue with her is that she’s very, very good at school so it’s sometimes hard for them to understand that her behavior when she’s not at school is quite different. Thank you again for all the things you said. It helps me to try as best I can to remember this “age gap” when dealing with her.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm
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    @Bladybug – I love this! We took a very similar approach with our boys. When they were losing control of their reaction, we would cary them to their room, set them on their beds and tell them they could take some quiet time.  We would tell them we loved them very much and when they were calmed down and ready to talk we would be happy to see them come back out to the living room.  It really works!  Sometimes the effect is almost immediate and they will be back in the living room a minute later ready to explain their feelings to us.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm
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    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. My mom is on the Spectrum, and I am all too aware of the “age gap.”  Like you, I make a very concerted effort to not make blanket statements, only observations of my experience with my family.  I became aware of my mom’s age gap when I was about 9.  That’s when I realized that although she looked like a grown up, she wasn’t actually behaving like a grown up. And I don’t mean she was immature, or she partied, or she was a brat. She simply acted more like a child than an adult.  And now that she is 62, we are still experiencing the difficulties of the age gap. When seeking resources, activites, and support groups, we find that we don’t fit anywhere.  She is not elderly, but she is not a child.  I am not a parent of someone with autism, I am the child of someone with autism.  Without turning this into my entire life story, I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate your perspective and wish you strength and pateince!

    Wendy “Fred” Hamilton

    Aspie Offspring

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  • January 27, 2012 at 1:50 pm
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    I try constantly to get my extended family to understand that my son Will may be 5 but developmentally, he’s 18 months old.
    It’s very frustrating to have them not understand 🙁

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  • January 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm
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    I so relate to this…I didn’t know how to put it in words when I tried to explain to people how my son is…thank you!

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  • January 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm
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    I can relate to your thoughts.  My son is 13 and his sister is 8.  We have a hard time deciphering if his actions towards his sister are his spectrum challenges coming through, or if he’s just being a 13 yr old big brother tormenting his little sister.  We know it’s often a mixture of both, but have to stay on our toes to remember to consider everything when deciding how to handle the situation.  Best of luck to you and your son.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm
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    I am the autisitc mother of an autistic 16 year old (yes it is as difficult as you can imagine, especially since we are both mild cases, and mine is more mild then his is) but we never allowed temper tantrums in our house.  The kids were sent to their rooms because it was not acceptable behavior.  Now at 16, my son when he feels a melt down coming on, he tells us he needs to go to his room, and goes to his room.  He is able to control the meltdowns by putting himself in a safe environment where he can settle down and head them off.  When at school his teachers know and he has a safe place he can go when he needs it, and in high school he has never needed it.  The knowledge he has a place to go helps him deal with the situations as they come up. 

    I have found from my own experiences, that kids, even autistic kids who know what is expected from them will meet the expectations as long as they understand they are loved and that if they learn to talk to the adults about what is causing the blockage, that the adults will work with them to find a compromise everyone can be happy with.  I also volunteer at the elementary school resource department, even though my kids have both grown out of the school, and my techniques have worked on the mild cases there, and I am not the mom in that situation.  The reason I am still there is because these kids count on me to help them through things, and the kids whom I have helped have had an easier time in the Junior high because they learned that adults will work with them if they approach things calmly and with constructive ideas of how to handle their difficulties.

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  • January 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm
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    WOW this is the perfect explanation … some ppl don’t understand y my son “gets away” with doing some of the things that he does & this is exactly y. Thank you for writing this.

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  • January 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm
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    Thanks for sharing. Wow…three autistic boys. I can only imagine what that’s like. I have an autistic brother and it was difficult dealing with him because of the same reason – the age gap. You look at him and he looks like a normal guy but his emotional response, as you said, is so different. This was especially challenging when he hit puberty and had to deal with the associated changes that come with it. Hope you’re at least getting some support from family and friends (you know, if you need someone to talk to, share etc). For what it’s worth, praying for you….

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  • January 11, 2012 at 1:26 am
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    Interesting read thats for sure! I am not of any help though, good luck with everything! (:

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  • January 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm
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    Mty nephew is a 2 year old toddler, and to calm him down, whenever he is throwing a tantrum and can’t calm himself down, I show him old videos we took of him laughing and smiling, as well as laughing videos of his baby cousin.  It works really well and I think it reassures him that he is capable of calming down and being happy.  Maybe you can do the same for your son?  Just a friendly suggestion! =]

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  • January 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm
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    I appreciate that you’re trying to create understanding attitudes, but I don’t think that portraying HFA as being “emotionally stunted” is effective towards that end.  What people don’t understand is the different level of sensitivity that we have towards stimuli that many people consider normal.  We get overloaded in situations people wouldn’t expect, and like typical people some of us will snap and some of us will just shutdown.  The process isn’t one of “having the emotions of a toddler” but of losing the ability to process the environment and the correct behavior because of over-use.  This happens to non-autistics too, just not as often and not for the same reasons.  Learning how to manage those types of situations is hard for autistics too, since we’re frequently isolated from other people who respond the same way. 

    Reply

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