Autism, Aspergers, Rob Gorski,Special Needs Parenting, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Fibromyalgia,



Apr 11 2012

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#Autism: The 12 year old toddler


The Age Gap

em>One of the most frustrating parts of raising a child on the spectrum for me is what I call the age gap. I have spoken about this before but it is something I struggle with everyday. I constantly have to remind myself to look below the surface before I react to whatever is going on.

The Disclaimer


Please keep in mind that I’m speaking only to the experience I’m having with Gavin. In the Lost and Tired family, Gavin is the best example of this phenomenon. Please don’t take this as a blanket statement about all Autistic persons. Everyone is different and so this may not apply to your situation. However, I will say that I have heard from many parents who are dealing with the exact same issues. This is not meant to be insulting to anyone, the point is to help with perspective. 

I wish there was some kind of magical truth mirror or something. This mirror would show a true reflection of who you are on the inside.

I think that many people aren’t aware of this age gap.. They aren’t aware that with kids like Gavin, looks can and will be decieving. You look at Gavin and you see a 12 year old boy throwing fit or melting down when he doesn’t get his way. However, there is quite so much more going on underneath the surface. While Gavin does have control over himself in many of these behavioral situations, this gap in age plays a huge role in his decision making process.

If you stuck Gavin in front of this special mirror or looked at him through a magic lens, you would see a small child not 12 year old boy. Gavin is emotionally stunted at about 3 or 4 years of age. His intelligence is that of a 12 year old boy but inside he is only 3 or 4 years old, emotionally.

Symbolic of the age gap

In other words, when he’s stressed out or overwhelmed he will react like a 3 or 4 year old would. So in a sense he’s an 12 year old toddler as developmentally, that’s about where he’s at. This is something that I find myself struggling with everyday.

It’s really easy to forget this when he’s in the midde of a meltdown. I tend to want to hold his accountable as an 12 year old for his behavioral choices.

The problem with that is he simply isn’t 12 years old developmentally.

For me, It’s far to easy to see someone that is just being difficult or uncooperative instead of seeing the situation for what it is. If Gavin were actually 3 years old then this behavior wouldn’t be such a hard pill to swallow. It’s age appropriate for a 3 year old have meltdowns and tantrums.

When you see Gavin melting down it’s pretty easy to assume things about him. However, the reality is far more complicated than that. It’s never a good idea to assume things about kids with Autism. While Gavin is probably not the purest example of this simply because of everything else he has going, I think the principle is the same. Many kids on the spectrum have a sizable gap between their emotional and chronological ages. Hence the developmental delay of Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

As a society and even as parents to these amazing, yet challenging kids, we should try to keep this in mind.

It’s really important to keep perspective when dealing with these very special children because it will help you to better understand their behavior.

Disciplining your child is a very difficult part of being a special needs parent. Trying to find that balance between real world accountability and what they can actually be held accountable for is a never ending struggle.

Perhaps this will give you a fresh perspective on things. Maybe it will help you to consider more age appropriate ways of addressing the inappropriate behavior. If nothing else it’s something to think about.

It’s a good idea to learn your child’s emotional age as it will give you valuable insight into their world. You can gain a better understanding of what makes them tick and also what drives their behavioral decisions. Problem behaviors still need to be addressed and there should be consequences, but you will have a better understanding of why it’s happening, insight into more age appropriate disciplinary actions and even how to avoid some of these behaviors going forward.

Just some food for thought……..  🙂

About the author

Lost and Tired

I’m Rob Gorski and I started this blog in January 2010 as a means of sharing my family’s real life journey raising 3 boys on the #Autism Spectrum. It’s important for people to understand what Autism can really be like and the impact it has on the family. We aren’t a TV show and there are no actors. This is our struggle, our journey…and it’s all true. I am “Lost and Tired” and this is “My Reality #Autism”.

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This sounds exactly like my 12 year old who I have home schooled 

Marianne Sandling 1 Like

I know EXACTLY what you're saying!!  Our son, L.S. is 7.  He is 9-10 intellectually but emotionally, he's 3 years behind, so he's about 4.  It's VERY hard with a child like this, because they're smart enough to know about things, but don't know how to deal with things emotionally.   When we explained it to his teacher at his IEP meeting last year, we finally started seeing some major progress, because they were able to deal with his issues totally different.  They saw him differently.As parents, it's even much more difficult, because we see their intellegence on a daily basis, and know what they're capable of... and (I know in our house at least) we have a tendancy to go more on the intellectual side vs emotional side.  We often forget that he's only 4 emotionally.  He has made GREAT strides in the last year, but it's still a battle.

Thank you SO much for posting about this.  So many people just don't get it. 

Iris 1 Like

I can totally relate. I have an 11 year old boy whom I love with all that's in me, diagnosed as highly functioning PDD-NOS. It is ver difficult to maintain my expectations aligned with his emotional age. On the other hand, I don't always know when he is or is not in control of his melt downs. To make matters worst, it makes it that much challenging to deal with judgement being passed on my parenting skills by those who just haven't a clue what's like a day in our lives... Most people, including friends and relatives, gravitate towards the idea that he is just not being properly disciplined. What's worst, even though I have a good understanding of his condition, they still manage to plant doubt in me... You asked in other one of your blogs what we wish for the most, that for me is that everyone we come in contact with had at least basic understanding of the spectrum but the reality is that most people haven't even heard of it, yet they are promp to pass judgement all the same 🙁

Marianne Sandling

You're SOOOOO right!!  I'm OFTEN chastised by my mother, who thinks we're just spoiling him rotten... she does NOT understand his issues at all.  For this reason, she's NEVER had him alone.  He's never spent the night, not even "hung" out over there without us.  At 7, that's highly unusual, but we just can't take the chance that something will happen to set him off...he'll REFUSE to go back over there ever again.  (it's happened before...)

She's only recently began to understand his issues.. for several years she said 'nothings wrong with's all you"

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one, but sorry that you have to deal with it too...Our own little 'wish others understood club' 


Yes, it is still the issue for my 10 year old. However, I learned a trick that I can actually bribe her with something she likes. That buys me time and have her go through unpleasant activities that she doesn't want to be a part of (like going to doctor, dentist, etc.). The bribe is very simple - ice cream or chicken nuggets. Sometimes, it is a little toy (Legos and small sized toys are still her favorites since she was a toddler). Positive reinforcement with awards in the end works wonders.  




We struggle with our non-verbal 8 year old and his meltdowns. It is a challenge. I don't know how you handle having 3 kids on the spectrum. God bless you.

Moni Fa
Moni Fa 1 Like

My son is now 28 yrs old, looks like a grown up man, yet in some areas he acts and reacts, at about 15yr old level! And I agree 100% that it is very easy to overlook or forget that fact, when looking at him! It was easier when he was younger I believe, but now he lives and works in an "adult" world, but is not always prepared or ready! Thanks 4 sharing your stories with us


I totally understand your post. Unfortunately, my almost 12 year old daughter is not only emotionally delayed but also mentally delayed. It is so hard to find/keep the proper perspective that is age appropriate at the delayed level not chronological age. Thanks for your post.


Totally understand. My 19 year old son is emotionally about 12 to 14, but with the size of a full grown man! He is very very smart and I am still hoping for the day his maturity catches up to his intellect.


I love your post and I know that parents out there who have kids will be able to relate from what you have shared here. Thanks you so much for sharing this to us. My recent post יום העצמאות

@KatrinaMoody 1 Like

Excellent post, Rob ... I was just having this discussion on FB with a friend who has a child on the spectrum and we were discussing the importance of understanding where your child was at developmentally instead of chronologically. It's something we have to put into perspective often! My recent post Restraint and Seclusion – The Personal Side of Life

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