In the field of disabilities, what do normalization and age appropriateness mean and why are these concepts important?

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Answered by: Drew, An Expert in the Disabilities Category
In the field of developmental disabilities, normalization and age appropriateness are two concepts that confuse people the most. This is especially true for people who function in the lower levels of mental retardation. While they are two separate concepts, normalization and age appropriateness have much in common and are usually spoken of together.

Normalization means that the person with disabilities is exposed to tasks and activities based on the social norms of the culture. It means giving them the same opportunities in life that others have. Notice that the person is not the one being "forced" to be normal; the environment is changed to give this person a chance to experience what is considered "normal."

Age appropriateness refers to encouraging the person with disabilities to interact with other people who are the same chronological age. They are exposed to opportunities to participate in activities and use items that are designed for their own age group. To understand age appropriateness, the key question is "would I see this being done by someone this age who doesn't have a disability?"

If a person has a developmental disability, they may learn at a slower rate, take longer to finish tasks or may require help. This does not mean that they cannot be treated the same as others who are their age. When adults with disabilities are treated like children through dress, possessions and activities, people will see them as children. They can never live up to expectations for persons of their own age.

Encouraging normalization and age appropriateness can be done in several ways. For example, many people have collections as hobbies. Some people choose to collect toys from their childhood. Keeping this in mind, the person with a disability does not have to give up their dolls, stuffed animals or toy cars when they turn the age of eighteen. The person can be taught new ways to interact with the toys by keeping a collection. Many women collect dolls and many men collect toy trains or cars.

Caregivers are faced with many questions when trying to encourage normalized and age appropriate activities for the clients they serve. These include:

     * What else could this person do?

     * Have they been given the opportunity to collect other items?

     * At a cognitive level, does the person have the ability to choose something else?

     * Have they been exposed to other adult leisure activities?

     * Are these activities accessible to the person?

     * Are they able to participate? If it is difficult, but the person seems truly interested, have efforts been made to support them in fulfilling this interest?

Caregivers will never know what age appropriate activities interest the persons they serve unless

several different activities are attempted. In order to develop interest, the person must be exposed to a variety of activities. This allows them to form an interest in new items and develops their ability to choose normalized and age appropriate activities.

Other ways that caregivers can promote normalization and age appropriateness include:

     * The caregiver must believe in age appropriateness before it will happen. After they have grasped the concept, they can encourage others, such as

coworkers, family members and other professionals, to follow their lead.

     * Caregivers should provide opportunities for people to experience the outside world. They should take the persons they serve to places where they

can observe how others interact in the world. This means going out into the community; people cannot learn if they are guarded from the real world.

     * People are judged by how they act and how they look. Caregivers need to help their clients develop skills in dressing appropriately to go into public.

Case managers should make sure that programs are in place that teach adults with developmental disabilities how they should interact with others.

Normalization and age appropriateness occurs only when people work together to ensure that persons with disabilities are given every chance to function in the world. Attitudes change slowly, so people leading this effort must be patient.

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