Reasons why 'mental age' is an offensive term

29th June 2007 at 01:00

In your publication dated June 1, you made five references to a person with Down's syndrome as having a mental age of four.

Even though the issues in the article need to be headline news, the TES should not describe people as having a "mental age", for the following reasons: 1 A mental age suggests we all follow a rigid developmental model - which we do not.

2 It ignores the fact that all learning is a response to the opportunities we are presented with in society.

3 No two people are the same. We all have different skills and abilities, and we demonstrate intelligences in different ways. One number cannot capture this.

4 If we say someone is like a four-year-old we treat them like a four-year-old.

5 It is considered an offensive label by many people.

6 Very few other people use it any more.

7 What does a lifetime of experiences count for?

The information about the student's mental age was based on the information given to her mother by her own professional carers. The Editor.

Jonathan Rix

lecturer in inclusion, curriculum and learning, Open University

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