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

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today