I am hesitant to put forth the two-thirds rule, because it is indeed the roughest of rules of thumb. But having found it helpful so far in my own parenting experience, and believing it might be of service to at least a few others, I offer it here along with Thoreau’s gentle admonition—that none stretch the seams in putting it on.
The two-thirds rule says that in development and maturation, particularly in those areas relating to acquisition of social and biological skills, autistic individuals will on average proceed at roughly two-thirds the pace of their non-autistic peers. Some autistics will be speedier, of course; others will march to a yet more measured beat. But as expectation, as seat-of-the-pants measuring, two-thirds would appear to be a reasonable guide.
Examples of the rule’s application might include:
- Toilet training—accomplished around three years of age in most, but more often hurdled near the age of five or six by many autistic individuals.
- Basic social language (spoken, gestured or typed)—shoots forward like a meteoric star in most children between the ages of two and five, but is acquired more deliberately by autistic children closer to the ages of four to eight.
- Sexuality (with all its unwritten rules)—of sudden and critical importance to many individuals in their early teens, but more safely, effectively and willingly explored by autistic individuals much nearer to their late teens.
- The final rites of passage into adulthood (graduation, job, marriage, children)—often approached impatiently as early as the age of sixteen by many, and yet for autistic individuals, it seems the majority are just not ready for such endeavors, even by the age of twenty-one (which might explain why so many can be found hiding out in graduate school, or in a parent’s spare room); and when we speak of full adult maturation in the autistic population, we are probably speaking mid to late twenties, maybe even later.
The above examples notwithstanding, the two-thirds rule is not intended as a tool for comparison; it is intended primarily as a means for enhancing understanding, and as an encouragement towards a more liberal use of patience and time. There is no shame to be associated with proceeding at a two-thirds rate, or at any rate indeed. Maturation is not a race. The quality of the finished product stands as far more decisive than the speed at which any development is obtained. Plus let’s not forget that autistic individuals receive significant compensation for their relative sluggishness in the social and biological spheres. Outside these domains, and particularly in areas of special interests, autistics will often quickly surpass their non-autistic peers (and in some cases, will manage to transcend). And one further thing I have noticed: upon reaching adulthood—at whatever calendar age that may be—autistic individuals often feel no urge to pause. Having battled this maturity battle for so long, perhaps they find it only natural to keep right on going, whereas with many non-autistic individuals I know, they seem particularly vulnerable to getting stuck near the developmental age of seventeen, the remainder of their biological time played out as little more than a reminiscence of glory days.
For autistic individuals, the glory days always seem to be the ones still ahead.