Stages not ages
How reassuring it is to begin to see a global dialogue beginning to push for us to understand that children learn differently, in their own way. Every child is unique, and in the same way that each of us have different physical characteristics, so do we have differently wired brains. As a mother, I remember the child development books I was given that stated that my child should be doing such and such by a particular age. By one they should be walking, by two talking--and if not, why not? The sense of inadequacy and competitive parenting that has evoked, the anxiety and often consequent denial that a child may learn differently has meant that many children have not been allowed to develop at their own stage and to relish the delights that development can give them, if unpressured and celebrated.
As a therapist much diagnostic criteria are linked to ages, while in education children are predominantly classed relating to age rather than stage. This creates huge emotional and social, as well as cognitive, challenges for children who learn in different ways. How sad that many of these children, thanks to the systems they are placed in, go on to believe they are useless. Their confidence in their innate and differing abilities is slashed before they really have a chance to show it.
In our developmental play paradigm, we celebrate difference and look at how children develop in stages rather than linking it to ages. We talk about the foundation skills that precede the next step and how we need to build in stages rather than ages. I am often asked in our trainings, "what age is this at?", "when would we expect to see this?" and I try and steer participants away from thinking of development in terms of ages. It really doesn't matter. What matters is that children get to learn and develop from where they are, and that we learn to see what they're showing us about how they learn and who they are through these stages that they're at. In the case of children who have developmental challenges, if we see them through understanding stage development we will be able to offer them the educational, clinical and personal opportunities that are tailored to their needs and in this way set them free to be themselves.