Thursday, May 28, 2009

How old is he?


K posted recently about answering the question of a child's age. I was surprised at the range of emotions I felt as I thought about my own answers to that question in the nearly eight years that I have been a mother.

It seems like a simple question, with a straightforward enough answer. Usually people who ask are either curious or just making conversation. Sometimes, though, the answer seems more complicated than it ought to be.

When Bearhug and Cuddlebug were babies, I always gave two answers - their actual age and their gestational, or "adjusted" age (the age they would have been had they been born on or near their due date).

"They're 2 months old, but their adjusted age is 2 weeks."

As they got a little older, they grew quickly and didn't seem as small for their age, but I still felt the need to qualify my answer since their developmental milestones were more appropriately gauged based on adjusted age.

"They're six months old, but their adjusted age is 4 1/2 months."

By the time they turned one, they were actually big for their age rather than small. We joked that maybe it was the steroids they received at birth to help their lungs develop.

I don't remember exactly when I stopped telling people their adjusted age, but as they entered the toddler stage my perspective on the question of age changed a bit.

As children move through the toddler and preschool stages, people tend to stop asking and make assumptions based on size. I became very sensitive to this because my boys were large for their age, but increasingly delayed in their development. Their behavior was more like children younger than them, but people assumed they were even older than they actually were, so it was a "double-whammy" in terms of the gap between where they were and where society at large expected them to be.

I became eager to set the record straight and make sure people knew they were "only 26 months" or "barely three" as a way to help explain their behavior (didn't know their dx yet) and insulate them (and us, let's be honest) from the harsh judgments of those who assumed they were older. They were big enough to look as much as a year older for a long time, and the "isn't he a little old to be acting like that" stares got old in a hurry.

At least that is one worry we don't have with Bitty... he is right-on average size for his age, so he's not typically mistaken for being older. On the other hand, his delays are pretty significant in some areas, so that "gap" between reality and perceived expectation is still there.

I hate to admit it, but one thing I was not looking forward to about his fourth birthday was having to tell people he is four now. It just seems to highlight the difference between him and other children his age. When he was three, I could just say, "three" without getting specific. I didn't tell people he was almost four, I just let them assume that perhaps he was a "younger" three.

Sometimes when I tell people Bitty's age, I get confused looks in response. I usually just smile and let it go at that (although if people are genuinely interested, I am more than willing to share, in fact I often appreciate the opportunity to do so). But after all, in the bubble that is my life, Bitty is a "typical" 4-yr-old :).





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3 comments:

Patty O. on May 29, 2009 at 8:59 PM said...

I'm right there with you. Danny is big for his age and has been his whole life, so I have the same issues, especially as he has delays, especially in his speech. This age thing has been especially tough on me as my kids really resist being potty trained. I have people look at me judgmentally when they realize my three-year-old daughter (who is actually neurotypical) is still not potty trained. And if they ever realize my 5yo son (who will be 6 in 2 months) still poops in his pants, they would be horrified.

I hate judgmental people.

rhemashope on May 31, 2009 at 11:53 PM said...

I completely understand this as I used to always find myself 'rounding down' Rhema's age. In the beginning it was easier for me b/c she was small and looked younger than her age. But then she hit a growth spurt and got tall. Now that she is 5, I have let it go. Developmentally she is far from 5, but I also see a maturity in her that I truly respect.

Julie on June 1, 2009 at 3:42 PM said...

I hear you. I guess I didn't put much thought into it until I read your and K's posts about it. My "issue" is when other kids think (and say) that Daniel is a baby. I try so hard NOT TO SEE what typical kids his age are doing. Denial? I don't know. I'm intentionally ignoring it because I don't see how it can help us right now... = /

 

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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.

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