Mental Age?

Motive asymmetry – the belief that one groups motives are driven by love, care and affiliation and the rivals are motivated by the exact opposite.  This term is generally referred to with regards to political conflict but I see fully activated in the issue of advocacy for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

It feels to me that motive asymmetry is at play with regards to trained self-advocates and parents/guardians/healthcare professionals/case managers/disability advocates when any topic related to care, support, employment, inclusion, residential settings and community environment are discussed.

As a parent/guardian/disability advocate, this concept is very clear to me since I have been told by many trained self-advocates that guardians are only self-serving. This is truly not my perspective at all but it is attributed to me since I am a guardian. One effective tool used to help bridge this conflict is to meet in person. Once you know the person, views and ideas may change. It is only by meeting people and working together as people, rather adhering to  inflexible ideologies, that we can break down these silos and make progress.

Mental age theory

Ivanova Smith has written an article in NOS Magazine regarding the issue of using “mental age” as a description for people who happen to live with an intellectual and developmental disability.  She states “We need to educate medical professionals that there are better and more respectful way to explain the needs of people with Intellectual/developmental disabilities. Difficulty doing specific tasks isn’t the same thing as being an actual child.”

I have never seen this description used to state that an adult with IDD is a child – they are adults who have a variety of support needs in many areas of life skills.  Using labels and descriptive terms for various ranks, steps or skill levels are used in all types of employment, school, sports and athletics,  and hobbies.  One must pass through step 1 to get to step 2.  This is a natural progression.  One need not necessarily master the step but at least have a passing effort before one is able to proceed or progress.  There could be many reasons for a rapid or slow progression through these levels.
People do not excel in all areas of life and do not need to be an expert in everything they attempt to have enjoyment and meaning from it. Also, people may “stall out” at one step and many years later may revisit and then gain more skills. This is not set in stone as it is a fluid process and there is always learning and progress occurring as people experience life. This progression is also true with developmental, emotional and maturity stages. It is not “good” or “bad” but just is.

I often hear that people do not like labels – but labels help us to learn and navigate life in so many ways. Think for instance of working in trades – there are labels applied to levels of skill development – apprentice, journeyman, master. One is not a better person than another by having a different label but has a different skill set. These labels help us, who may not be familiar with the work to be done, who we might want to seek out for consultation. Labels are not inherently bad but can be extremely useful in many situations.
I am asking for your input into how you, as a trained self-advocate, differentiate between people who may need an extreme amount of support to manage the daily activities of living versus someone who may only need some occasional guidance with specific areas? How do you, as a trained self-advocate, differentiate between someone who is unable to utilize public transportation and needs to be driven everywhere in a private vehicle versus someone who can navigate the city independently on public buses?
Or maybe you do not see the need to differentiate – if not, why not?

Please contact me Ivanova – I would love to meet with you in person.

Thank you – Cheryl Felak


Have you ever heard the phrase “that person has the mind of a five year old In an adult body?” It is something many adults with intellectual disabilities, like me, have to deal with. For years, medical professionals have told parents of newly diagnosed Intellectually disabled people that they would mentally be children for their entire lives.…

via Mental Age Theory Hurts People with Intellectual Disabilities — NOS Magazine

#inclusivity  #diversityisstrength  #YouAreTheChange  #beyondinclusion  #disabilityrights  #intellectualdisability   #disabilitysupport  #mentalage  #agetheory


2 comments on “Mental Age?

  1. ddexchanges says:

    Thank you, Cheryl, for the term, “Motive asymmetry.” I’ve never heard it before. I think it fits very well the political climate related to protections and rights of people with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD). I infer from your writing that you hold trained self advocates at least partially responsible for this. I agree: it seems to me to be a product of denial, denial of the reality that there are people with IDD whose intellectual disabilities are arrested at very early stages, rendering them incapable of managing even the most basic decisions for their safety and well being or of functioning beyond the level normally associated with toddlers or youngsters of higher developmental stages, but still whom we would not expect to make sound decisions for themselves in many critical areas. If it is not denial, then perhaps it is ignorance. If not denial or ignorance, then, perhaps lack of compassion.

    We all tend to see life through the lenses of our own experience. Presumably, the broader our experience, the better our ablility to empathize. Empathy is difficult for people who have not had a certain experience or whose experience has been opposite that of the other person. Its much easier to project one’s own experience on the other person.

    Essentially, I’ve heard in more than one discussion: “I lived in an institution and I didn’t have any choice and bad things happened to me. I have choice now that I live on my own. So, I know that institutions are all bad and they should be closed.” That person has valid experience, but is overgeneralizing it, not taking into account factors which might, logically change her conclusion. When and where was the institution? Have conditions in institutions changed? Are all institutions the same? How are institutions of today and here in Washington different from the one s/he lived in? How is regulation different? Could it be that standards differ now and institutional residents are supported in their individual needs? How much more intellectually functional is the self-advocate making the assertion than the people being served in the institutions, now.? How do the perceived dangers of institutions stack up against the alternatives, especially if there is little regykatuib ir oversight for his or her non-institutional residence and the person is non verbal and doesn’t have the ability to complain about abuse or even the intellectual capacity to understand that complaint is possible or how to do it to get the attention of someone who can help?

    And American politics requires self advocacy, so it’s hardly surprising that there are more functional people willing to throw under the bus people with lessor mental abilities.

    In most areas, your son functions at a much higher level than my sister. Both have experienced life in an institution and life outside of an institution, and currently, both are benefiting from different residential options. Is one better or worse? I believe that is the wrong question. And there is more than one right question. What venue would most benefit your son? What venue would most benefit my sister? Are they both available? Fortunately, yes. Are they the same? No, course not. Should one option be foreclosed because the other person doesn’t need it? No, of course not.

    What about a work environment? With a job coach and other supports, your son is physically, mentally, verbally and socially competent to do a job that pays him minimum wage (if I understand you correctly.) With minimal physical, mental, verbal or social abilities, my sister has drastically less competency, yet her job, for which she has a sub-minimum wage certificate, is very important to her. Should one or the other of them have to give up what they have, need and value for the sake of the other? Of course not!

    Hopefully, this discussion will lead to increased understanding, broader thinking and improved cooperation among advocates for people with Idd, self advocates and otherwise.

    Thanks, Cheryl for bringing up the subject of “Motive assymetry.”

    Liked by 1 person

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