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The Problem with "Age-Appropriate"

April 22, 2014

This post is by Liane Kupferberg Carter, a mother of two adults. Her son Mickey has autism. Liane is a journalist whose articles and essays have appeared in more than 40 publications. As a community activist, she has worked with both national and local organizations. 

This piece originally appeared on Autism After 16 is a website dedicated to providing information and analysis of adult autism issues. You can read the original post here.

On a trip to Arizona three years ago, my son Mickey asked to visit the airport gift shop. He rummaged through a display of stuffed animals. “Hey there little fella,” he said, clutching a small stuffed bear to his chest. For the next hour, until it was time to board, he walked through the airport gripping his new toy.

For years, therapists have urged us to encourage more “age-appropriate” interests. We have. But at 21, Mickey is still drawn to Sesame Street characters. His bed is piled with so many plush toys there’s no room to roll over. He sleeps with a large Sponge Bob pillow.

I’ve come to wonder if wanting him to be more age-appropriate says more about our comfort level than about Mickey’s development.

Instead of focusing on having age-appropriate interests, wouldn’t we all be better off focusing on teaching our kids the appropriate times and places to pursue those interests? Listening to Muppet music on an IPod with ear buds is fine; carrying a Muppets backpack is not. I don’t want anyone bullying him.

The bottom line is this: Mickey works hard all day to meet other people’s expectations of suitable behavior. If he wants to watch blooper reels from “Reading Rainbow” and outtakes from “The Muppets Movie” when he gets home, that’s fine. Why shouldn’t he seek out things that comfort or amuse him? We all do. Marc and I have watched so many “Seinfeld” reruns we could do a responsive reading of the dialogue. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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