Many people tend to focus on a child’s chronological age when talking to them, shopping for toys, playing with them or just their overall expectations of them, instead of focusing on their developmental age.
When addressing your child’s needs, you would be better served focusing on their developmental age. Now don’t get me wrong, knowing what is expected developmentally of a child at any given age, is an important tool which can help you in making many decisions regarding the services they need. However, it is equally, if not more important in my opinion, to evaluate what “age” your child is currently functioning at for any given developmental area.
By focusing on developmental age, you can target activities or skills that they still need to acquire in their logical sequence, so that they can make progress towards their goals.
For example, my younger son, who is non-verbal and lower-functioning is 7 years old, but developmentally is functioning at about 2-3 years old, with isolated and scattered skills that range up from 18 months all the way up to 6 years old.
Some of the basic skills needed to build towards other higher-level skills are imitation, understanding cause and effect, basic identification of object, colors and shapes, just to name a few.
Some of the best ways to teach or reinforce these skills at home is by shopping the baby/toddler section and utilizing some basic toys. Til this day, our staple toys at home are colored rings, a shape sorter, Play Doh and a pop-up toy.
Just so you know, my son didn’t play appropriately or master these “basic” toys, targeted towards children from 0 – 36 months, until he was around 4 years old. However, because he is comfortable with these toys today, we use them to teach other skills.
Before my son knew how to use these toys as intended, we worked on: imitation – “Do this” (take a ring and put it on the pole yourself and ask them to imitate) or simple commands – “Give me” (work with only one ring or block and ask for it). As he progressed, we used them to maintain what he learned while teaching identification of colors or shapes – “Give me red” when presented with only two colored rings or blocks or “Give me circle” when presented with only two different shapes.
However, even after he has mastered how to do the rings or the shape sorter independently, we used these toys to work on other skills or expand his knowledge. We used the rings and blocks together to match colors (red ring & red block), we expanded his receptive language and understanding of some more simple commands (put ring on bed, touch ring, throw ring, pick up ring, etc). We used these activities to teach task completion (the ability to finish an entire activity independently with minimal redirection).
Right now, we are using the various basic toys he has mastered independently to teach him to work on a visual schedule. For example, we have pictures of the different activities on a velcro board and he needs to complete one and transition to the next one in the ordered presented.
Don’t get frustrated when the toy label says 12-16 months and your child is much older. These basic toys help teach the building blocks to higher level developmental skills. Like I said, we still have ours and have plans to use them as my son progresses. Just focus on their developmental “functional” age – and focus on the skills they still need to learn.
For more information about what are some of the developmental milestones by chronological age