The Difference Between Age Appropriate & Developmentally Appropriate

Annie Tanasugarn, PhDc, BCBA CEO/AUTHOR, The Autism Analyst
"Autism Awareness simply means to acknowledge that Autism exists; Acceptance is to acknowledge its value."

Hello Everybody!

What a great and super busy week we’ve had here at The Autism Analyst! We’re preparing to add even more goodies to our website (so keep checking out the latest updates!) and are also prepping for some exciting news for our subscribers and families, so make sure to stay tuned!

Ever wonder what the heck behavior analysts, doctors and psychologists mean when they say “developmentally appropriate” versus “age appropriate”? Well, if these sayings leave you with more questions than answers, trust me…you’re not alone. I was in the field awhile before I could actually understand the difference between these 2 common phrases associated with Autism.

It’s pretty common to see children on the spectrum having rigid likes and dislikes, even to the extent of only liking specific toys, etc. For example, I worked with a boy several years ago who was 8 back then. He loved (I mean was totally obsessed!) with Power Rangers. He lived them: had their costumes, recited the show from memory, had coloring books, DVDs, and had all the action figures. Needless to say, we often used Power Rangers as the preferred reinforcer in his therapy sessions. Power Rangers are pretty age-appropriate  and developmentally appropriate for an 8-year-old boy.

The issue with developmental appropriateness and age-appropriateness is that they often are not in sync which is a pretty big problem many families face. While Power Rangers are age-appropriate and can be developmentally appropriate for an 8-year-old child, let’s fast-forward 10 years. Now, we have a young adult male. Can Power Rangers be seen as either age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for a an 18 year old man?….perhaps not.

Here is where it can get tricky:

You can have both developmentally appropriate and age appropriate (such as the 8 year old boy).

You can have neither developmentally appropriate, nor age appropriate (such as the 18 year old male).

You can have developmentally appropriate, but not age appropriate.

And lastly, you can have age appropriate, but not developmentally appropriate.

……Is your brain as scrambled as mine yet?


What you, as the parent, should take away from this, is that society’s expectations of what is considered age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate behavior should not govern how you run your home, your schedule or your child’s program. If you little one (or not-so-little one!) wants to watch Sesame Street and cuddle with her Bert & Ernie dolls on her bed at home, it’s perfectly acceptable.

Structured parent training by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst such as myself, can help create options, support and ideas for increasing age appropriate and developmentally appropriate behaviors, while allowing families to honor their dignity, individuality and uniqueness.


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