Pervasive Developmental Delay. Psychiatrists will tell you that it means delayed development in a broad range of skills and aptitudes. It means delayed maturity. They might even break out the “mental age” label.

For me, pervasive developmental delay means being lonely a lot. It means being the last of your peers to give up children’s toys for music and fashion. It means watching your friends getting ready for college and careers–getting boring–while you still want to play games and have fun.

And so you make friends, often a bit younger than you, and watch as they start acting boring and old and leave you behind. This happens several times. It happens a little slower each time, but it happens again and again.

The worst was at the end of high school and getting ready for college. My friends were choosing the best schools to go to and planning the rest of their lives. I still wanted to play D&D all summer. After all, college wasn’t until after summer. But they had matured, grown up, and they had more important things on their minds than games and entertainment. At the time I didn’t understand this, and I felt abandoned by the best, maybe only friends I’d ever had. It wasn’t until my own diagnosis many years later that I realized it wasn’t they who left me behind; it was I who didn’t keep up with them.

The same thing happened with my cousin, who was like a brother to me. His interest shifted from playing pretend games to wargames with his other friends, to girls, and jobs, and school. Leaving me years behind him. I still miss him.

It happens again when everyone you know starts having children. Again you’re left out, left behind. What is there for you to talk about when everyone is discussing babies and preschools.

That’s what pervasive developmental delay has meant in my life. But for bonus points, it also means having a hard time dealing with responsibilities. Having parents telling you that you aren’t ready for real life, and maybe even being right.

I’ve heard and read that later in life, we get to catch up. That our peers stop maturing, and the differences between us lessen in that regard. But I wonder, do they really lesson? Do we really catch up, or do we just get better at hiding it.

The best I can say is that I’m still friends with my college friends. They outgrew me too, but not so far or so fast as previous sets of friends. I may be the quirky one, the silly one, but we still hang out and we’re still friends. So maybe we do catch up later on in life. Or maybe I just got lucky in my friends.

Can you prepare your child for this phenomenon? I don’t know. Perhaps they can benefit from finding aspie peers to befriend. They’re easier to find these days, it seems.

1 Comment

  • Jester Queen says:

    OK – so there’s this stereotype that aspies magically find other aspies and magically make friends. And I don’t want to perpetuate that. So let me get that out front before I say that
    And only one of them goes to school with her. (Hers is a school for … they’ve retooled their motto this year since DSMV eliminates the term “Asperger’s” something mouthfully like ‘bright children with learning differences who can flourish in a nonstandard academic environment’, but anyway, it boils down to a lot of ADHD and Asperger’s with some other things thrown in for variety.) Anyway, the others are people she picked up completely at random. She has neurotypical friends – many of them younger than her, many of them ballet buddies, and Caroline has an innate ability to make friends. (It’s a skill I had to develop as an adult; it’s a skill Scott had to be taught as well. The only one of our parents who has this ability is his father. We presume it’s a reclusive little gene that likes to sit back chatting in the pool and leap forward every couple of generations to make an appearance.) But the three besties are all on the spectrum. They’re all the same age, and I’ve noticed they all sort of haul each other forward with peer groups. Caroline would still watch preschool TV shows if one of them hadn’t pointed out that nobody else their age did those things and they should probably pretend not to, also. On the one hand, I don’t want to have the kid living by her fears of what others will perceive. I love her individuality. On the other hand, I was ready to decapitate Dora, her monkey, and her cousin before Caroline finally gave them up.

    Anyway, the short answer is that yeah, you can prepare a kid, but you have to be careful. I feel like one of the reasons I’m so GOOD at making friends now, and one of the reasons I value friendship so strongly is that I went for years without friends. From second to fifth grade, I had nobody. I’m not about to take away my kid’s friends. But I won’t hesitate to step in and tell her to be herself. I deliberately put her in academic settings where the kids speak openly about the things that make them different and alike. I try to keep an open line with her (not easy – she’s got hormones raging – ugh) about her self esteem and her interests.

    And I’m also lucky. My kids are academic achievers. Caroline “hates math” but gets pissed with herself if she earns below a B. (And at Churchill, if you earn below a B, you repeat that portion until you understand it. They don’t pass kids along ever, and they celebrate each other’s achievements.) Sam adores math and is (at six) heading into second grade math at the rate at which his sister advanced in reading at this age. So even if they are emotionally immature when they hit 18, they are still going to have that spark of interest, whether it’s in the arts or in an academic area, to pursue a passion.

    Also, consider this. To what degree did playing D&D give you the mental skillset to think about computers and programming and apps? I’d argue that those “behind” years prepared you for your current job in more ways than you think.

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