April 22, 2014 by Marj Hatzell
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was in school learning to become a teacher. Specifically, my major was Special Education. Even more specifically, I specialized in Autism. FUNNY HOW LIFE WORKS OUT.
Anywho, one of the reasons I went back to school to become a teacher and major in special education was my brother-in-law. He has Down syndrome and I met him the first time and thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” I love that guy.
We don’t see him anymore (very, very long story involving my father-in-law) and that makes me sad. But he was the catalyst that got me back to school. Up until then, I had three other majors, was in and out of several schools, and basically shuffled around for nine years until it finally dawned on me that I might have a calling in education. No regrets, even if I have absolutely no desire to teach in special ed again. Ever. Again.
One of the things that came up time and time again in all of those educational philosophy classes, educational psychology classes, and teacher methodology classes was about “age-appropriateness.” In other words, most of my professors and instructors were dead-set against any disabled adult liking “childish” things. It was demeaning, they said. It wasn’t right, they said.
You cannot treat them like children when they are adults (Which I do agree with. You cannot, should not, treat adults as though they were children. But I digress.) Thirty-year-old men shouldn’t be watching Disney movies and dressing up in Halloween costumes. Or fifty-year-old women in group homes shouldn’t have pink rooms and pink hair and collecting My Little Pony dolls. I quietly thought, “Dude. My brother-in-law knows every Beatles song, can’t write his full name and thinks Elmo is THE BOMB and he’s twenty-five!” I mean, what’s the harm? It’s not that big of a deal, right?
I graduated a few years later and The Guy I Live With and I started our little family. Life happened and both boys had developmental delays (though FREAKISHLY advanced motor skills. Huh.) and we ended up in therapies and schools. Some therapists, doctors, and teachers have opinions, see. Our boys had some heavy-duty interests. I was warned not to let them get too obsessed, because there’s nothing cute about an old man that’s into Thomas the Tank Engine.
They almost convinced me. Bug Boy eventually grew out of certain things (TITANIC. Well, sort of grew out of it) and now he’s a teenager. Nothing to worry about there. He is interested in all the things that teenagers are interested in. You know, Minecraft. Girls. Music. Girls. Not school. Girls… But Bugaboo has mostly stayed with the same things. It’s still all Thomas all the time. Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. We watch Thomas every day, several times a day. He has Thomas teeshirts. He has Thomas wooden trains and track. He has Thomas apps on his iPad. He has Thomas books and toys. He can’t walk into a store that has Thomas merch without leaving with a dollar cup or a teeny toy train. The boy loves trains. Specifically Thomas. He is eleven. Thomas makes him very happy.
When he was school age I thought I should start trying to segue him into some “older” or “age-appropriate” trains. Those nagging angel/devil voices on my shoulder started speaking to me. “Give the Thomas stuff away. Get him away from the baby stuff. Give me your soul and you’ll live forever!”
Ok, maybe not the last part. But you know how it is when you’re a parent. Parents feel this pressure to do everything right so they don’t mess up their precious spawn. If baby becomes a serial killer it MUST have been because you didn’t feed them organic spinach and you let them play with baby toys too long! Special needs parents feel even more pressure to get it right so their kids have the best possible chance at independence. That’s all we hear, “The ultimate goal is independence.” Hanging on to Thomas at the age of thirty won’t help him get friends his age, now will it? You’re a bad parent! HE STILL PLAYS WITH TOYS.
I thought about giving away some of the Thomas things that were geared towards babies or toddlers. But the truth was Bugaboo still loved Thomas. Why transition him? Why take that away from him? It’s something that absolutely brings him joy. It’s predictable. It’s expected. It’s comforting. He knows the songs by heart and used to hum them. He knows every episode and knows when to tap me on the shoulder and point, handing me the remote to fast forward through the parts he dislikes. Like the troublesome trucks. THOSE JERKS.
The heck with being age-appropriate. Wanna know why?
I know “typical” grown women who collect My Little Pony.
I know “typical” men into Hello Kitty and Trains.
I know folks so obsessed with Disney they visit the park several times a year, wear Disney clothes and play the soundtracks in their cars. On repeat. They have disney-themed weddings and parties. And gardens. And license plates.
I have family members who are all ACTION FIGURES ACTION FIGURES ACTION FIGURES and cosplay.
So why is it acceptable for THEM to have toys and enjoy “childish” things but not my boy? Why is it different?
Oh. That’s right. It’s really no different. Not one bit. If it’s acceptable for “typical” people, then it IS just fine for the Bugaboo and anyone else. So age-appropriateness can take a long walk off a short pier because we are going to be just fine with Thomas for a long, long time.
You know, sort of. I might lose my marbles completely after hearing the theme song for thirty more years. Every day. Several times a day. “I’m a really useful engine!” GAAAAH!!! It sort of makes me want to jab ice picks into my ears. But no worries! I’m not getting any younger and with any luck I’ll lose my hearing soon. Hopefully REALLY soon. Ahem.
And gosh darn it, we’re still going to go see Thomas every year when he’s at our local railroad. I’ll take Bugaboo there any time he wants to go, even when he’s a “grown-up.”
*steps off soapbox*