What is "Developmental Age" Exactly?

— Gesell Institute of Human Development
Updated on Apr 12, 2011

Research shows us that certain behaviors, language, and intellectual abilities are typically characteristic of and associated with a specific chronological age. A child’s developmental age will indicate where a child is socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually on this path of development, as compared to typical behaviors and characteristics of that age.

For example, systematic observation of a child who is chronologically four years old may tell us that the child exhibits the characteristics, behaviors, and abilities that are associated with a three-and-a-half yearold overall. Through such observation, we might determine that the child’s developmental age is 3½. It also could be the case that a fouryear- old child may be – developmentally – four-and-a-half.8 It is important to understand that faster is not necessarily “better” and slower is not bad. The simple fact is that children develop at different rates. The younger the child, the more variance there is in development. In addition, many children do not experience even or consistent growth across the various areas of development (social, emotional, physical, and intellectual).

Few children, in fact, exhibit behavior that is entirely characteristic of any one developmental age. Some behaviors may be ahead of and some behind those known to be typical of an age. For example, a child’s language skills may reflect an older developmental age while his or her motor or social skills may be younger. Each child is unique, bringing his or her own individual and special differences to the growth process.9

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