The Tricky Balance of Age Appropriateness

Miriam Gwynne by Miriam Gwynne Additional Needs

Miriam Gwynne

Miriam Gwynne

Full time mum and carer for two truly wonderful autistic twins. I love reading, writing, walking, swimming and encouraging others. Don’t struggle a...

I still kiss my son goodnight. I think most mums of ten-year-olds still do that, don’t they? Is it age appropriate?

I honestly have no idea because I, most likely, will be kissing my son before bed for the rest of his life.

He won’t ever be embarrassed by it either because while his body ages his mind will always be that of a toddler at most.

And therein lies a huge dilemma as a parent of a child with significant cognitive impairment: what do I do with the whole issue of age appropriateness?

It’s so tricky.

I’m still doing intimate care on my son. Someone has to do it but finding an appropriate place is very tricky now he’s the same height as me.

While it really isn’t anyone’s business why I still have to enter bathrooms with him I admit it looks increasingly awkward for people as he becomes ever close to my height, thinks nothing of giving me a body hug in public and he’s reaching puberty quicker than I can blink.

While most preteens seek out more and more independence, he needs me closer more than he ever did before.

Since epilepsy joined his long list of diagnoses being out of sight has proven too greater risk for either of us.

Then there bathing. At an age when he should be washing his own hair, thinking about deodorant and aware of his self-image he still needs me to run a bath, wash his hair, clean his body and dry and dress him.

Simple age appropriate things like privacy and dignity are words he likely won’t ever understand let alone request.

It’s not really appropriate age wise for me to do what I do for him but then how would he ever get clean if I didn’t do it?

He still wants to do what younger children do. That’s becoming increasingly awkward too.

He can’t balance or climb on the play equipment in the park designed for children five and over so he climbs and crawls on slides which are barely the height of him and are built for toddlers.

Cognitively and socially he’s the right age but physically he’s 9 years too big.

He would still like to sit in a safety swing designed for babies but his body won’t allow that.

Unless there is a seat delighted for children with physical disabilities then going on a swing is impossible as age appropriate swings require him to hold on and self-support, two basic physical skills he’s yet to master.

He loves soft play but it’s difficult to keep him out of the baby and toddler areas and signs mean nothing since he can’t read his own name never mind instructions.

There are no playing outside in our world, or sleepovers, or theme park trips.

There’s no watching his football team play, x boxes or cinema trips. There aren’t even birthday parties, Lego building or pocket money.

On the surface, nothing seems very age appropriate in any way.

Yet just because my son is disabled doesn’t mean I baby him or that he can’t experience anything typical of a ten-year-old.

As he’s growing and maturing it’s important that I grow and mature in the way I parent him too.

So, whilst he won’t suddenly start asking for a mobile phone, taking selfies or demanding the latest trend in sportswear he definitely deserves the same respect, privacy, and choice of any other ten-year-old.

My son can make basic choices and I respect his answers.

If I take him to a clothes shop and give him the choice between two pairs of trousers he can and should be allowed to choose the pair he wants.

If we are out and he needs his personal needs met then he can decide whether to come with me into the ladies or use the disabled bathroom.

After swimming, I encourage him to hold a towel over himself for privacy even if he has no idea what this means.

He’s growing and becoming a teenager which is tricky for any child but so much trickier when your child is disabled.

Navigating the waters of age appropriateness with a ten-year-old whose choice of YouTube videos includes Peppa Pig and Bing Bunny and who still thinks he can fit in a toddler coupe car is proving quite a learning experience for us both.

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