Mental Age

Sharing this article from Nos Magazine on Mental Age Theory

Several important things to note here.  (See also: functioning labels)

1. Childism

Ableism & childism are inherently connected in “mental age” theory and society’s generalized beliefs about “mental age”. To be called childish, to be compared to a child, to be reduced to a child, to be treated as a child for one’s entire life is insulting and abusive- because children are not seen as fully-functional human beings with full human rights.

Children in our society are vulnerable creatures at the wrong end of an enormous power differential. Children are not seen as having the right to make choices about what happens to their bodies or their lives, or to even argue about such things with adults, who are seen as having the right to physically and psychologically punish them.

2. Ableist slurs

Slurs like idiot, imbecile, and moron are used as insults by even the most politically correct- people who would shudder in horror and outrage at the use of r*/tard. Yet, like r*trd, these words were also once medical diagnoses used to deny a person’s humanity and consign them to a lifetime of incarcerated abuse and neglect. (This also applies to dumb, as in, unable to speak; the assumption being that you must not be able to think, either. There are more examples, see: lists on the internet.)

To use these terms flippantly not only trivializes and dismisses the great harm society does/ has done to people with developmental/ cognitive/ intellectual disabilities (and mental illness), but also perpetuates the belief that such people are subhuman and revolting.

3. Neurotypical assumptions

Some people do not respond in a neurotypical fashion or timeframe. Their atypical responses (or, for that matter, lack of response) don’t mean they aren’t taking in information, sorting it out, and applying it to their lives, in their own ways. These ways are valid and functional for them, but are often overlooked, ignored, dismissed, or pathologized instead of given due credit. This is a failing on the part of neurotypical evaluators, not the people being evaluated.

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One thought on “Mental Age

  1. Thanks for this. I am totally appalled at the use of “mental age” terminology in disability services and by parents of disabled people. I saw it on the application form for the adaptive horseback rdiing school I signed up for and I was so glad to have the privilege of not having an intellectual disability. This “mental age” logic was also used to justify the Ashley “treatment” (I don’t know whether you were already active as a disability acitivst back then, but doctors stopped a child from growing in order to align her physical body with her “mental age”).

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