Note: Thanks to our friends at National Autism Association for sharing this post on their Facebook page. My two older daughters definitely love TV shows and characters that are not age appropriate. Mia is 23, and still loves Sesame Street. Her recent discovery (perseveration) of Charlie Brown brought me a huge sigh of relief. And I'm not proud of that. "Oh! Everyone can love Charlie Brown. I still do!" I did exactly what this young woman with autism says we NTs do to people with autism. I tried to force my girls to "move on" from their dear childhood friends to more age appropriate enjoyment. Why? To make me feel like they were making progress? To spare them embarrassment that they did not feel when out and about? I recall several years ago one of my care team was at camp with the girls, when an 18 year old camper had a huge meltdown and tried to bolt the building. Why? Because she wanted to listen to the theme song to a Nick Jr TV show and the counselor kept telling her "No! That's a baby show." If someone said to me, "No! You can't have a cup of coffee because it's after 3:00pm," I'd get angry and frustrated. Why can't our kids just love what they love? Thanks to Kristine Motokane for this insightful piece.
By Kristine Motokane
Whenever I go shopping in stores or browse online, I’ve noticed that certain things are categorized based on factors such as age, gender etc. For instance, the children’s section in clothing stores tends to have more character clothing, bright colors and be cutesier, while the adult section has less selection of character clothing and tends to be more sophisticated. Even the gift guides, specific lifestyle blogs and advertisements tend to categorize specific activities, themed characters etc. based on age groups. The examples I just mentioned are a reflection of the expectations society has in terms of what interests are appropriate for each age group and stage.
For some people with autism like myself, the concept of “age appropriateness” does not apply. We tend to not care about these kinds of arbitrary standards. However, many professionals and parents discourage interests that are perceived as inappropriate for one’s age. This well-meaning gesture is often an attempt to get the person to “fit in” better with their peers. As a 25-year old on the spectrum who has interests targeted to a younger audience, I disagree with this practice of getting autistic people (particularly teens and adults) to develop more “appropriate interests.” It pathologizes what is actually individual expression of interests and preferences all humans have. With this framework in mind, I will use my experience with this topic to explain why I dislike the term “age appropriateness.”
Ever since I was little, I had a strong interest in characters. In preschool it was Pocahontas and Lion King, while in grade school it was the Rugrats, Pokemon and Powerpuff Girls. The characters I liked would change throughout the years, but one thing would remain constant — characters continued to be my special interest. Fast forward to middle school; I still had a strong preoccupation with characters. I developed a strong preoccupation with Hello Kitty as well as Disney Princesses. I would have to buy merchandise from bedding to jewelry that was plastered with my favorite characters. Unlike the earlier years of elementary school and preschool, it became less “socially acceptable” to be into characters. Most of the girls started developing more mature interests such as boys and fashion.
As with some other parents of autistic teens, my mother became concerned that I didn’t have a fashion sense and still clung to my childhood interests as I approached high school. This is one of the reasons why I started working with a behaviorist — to help me learn what other teens were into. Sessions with the behaviorist consisted of trips to the mall and going to teenage stores, looking at fashion magazines as well as watching “trendy” TV shows. Perhaps my least favorite part was the “cool “or “not cool” chart that my therapist did during a social skills group one time for learning the “in’s” and “out’s” of teen culture. Read more here at The Mighty.