It's such a normal thing to ask someone's age, especially when they're obviously young enough to be proud to announce it to anyone who asks. Most children can tell you how old they are by their second birthday.
One of the most useful things I learned in Early Intervention Classes was how to determine a child's developmental age based on some pretty basic screening tests. The purpose of this constant assessment is that a little nudging toward the next task sometimes helps babies with Down Syndrome to advance a bit faster. I found that it also helped in understanding what was going on with my other children.
Walker was lucky enough to have two older sisters and one younger, so we had a living child development laboratory. The toys for the next level were already in the playroom, he just decided when he was interested in them. He had a constant playmate who even shared his room. He learned to climb out of his crib to get into hers soon after she moved in. The big girls taught him to walk by standing him up against a wall and tempting him with Cheerios and other treats. Everyone wanted to be the one that taught him their name first.
Just recently, my grandaughter asked me how old Walker is. I gave his real age, then explained that he is really more like a teenager. When she asked me why he still lives at home and why he doesn't drive a car, it was a golden opportunity to explain Walker to her.
For management purposes, I still like to know how old Walker is. Not in years, but in his interests and needs. I don't run developmental screenings on him anymore. There are some pretty easy ways to get an idea of where he is. His development has followed the almost identical path of that of my other children and grandchildren, only in slow motion.
Walker’s interests in movies and television can give me a peek into where he is developmentally. Although, like many of us, he occasionally goes back to watch a childhood favorite, right now he is generally choosing the kinds of things that pre-teens or perhaps young teens enjoy at the moment. He loves “Hannah Montana” and he was totally impressed when his brother in law’s band, Rooney, opened for The Jonas Brothers on tour. He spends most of every pay check on a new CD or DVD. He is a “collector” of Disney Classics. Like most of the rest of his family, he enjoys musicals a great deal, particularly “High School Musical”. He loves silly comedies with Chevy Chase or Eddie Murphy. He no longer seems to think bathroom humor is the funniest thing ever. He stuck around to watch a more adult sit com with us recently. He actually enjoys the ritual of our church services and has developed his own faith successfully. All of these clues give me an idea of where he is and what he might need next.
So, how old is Walker? Well, it appears that his interests and abilities are like those of a young teenager. He has mostly gotten past the adolescent angst and settled into the reality that he is where he is, and for now there’s not much he can do about it. Thank goodness, he is coasting along pleasantly. There were times when that wasn't so true. I consider it a sign of maturity that Walker has a kind of serenity about his life, at times more than the average person.
I personally have some difficulty with the inevitable changes that life brings. I struggle with some changes even when I look forward to them. I really struggle with the ones I anticipate being less pleasant. Change can be painful, and guess what, in my experience it never ends.
I wonder if and when Walker will embark on a more turbulent time of life, that time that adults face when they must separate from their parents and draw boundaries around their rights to make their own decisions. I’m already seeing evidence that he wants to decide a lot of things for himself. He accepts guidance from his speech therapist and personal attendant and his dad better than he accepts it from me.
I hope that Walker will achieve whatever level of independence makes him happy. I consider it my job to make the process easier, but I'm not kidding myself, it might be hard...really hard. It has always been that way in families, the best I can tell.
I hope that I continue to observe the changing needs of my family and friends and respect those changes. I hope I will accept the reality of whatever stage of life may confront me as gracefully as possible.