It’s a relatively straightforward question, with a not-so-simple answer.
How old is Ethan? Well, he’s four, of course. Four and a quarter, to be exact – except he’s not.
He’s five, as I watch him write all of his letters, and count to 40 and beyond, do simple addition or spell words.
He’s two, when he throws himself on the ground and tantrums when I tell him to come inside, or when I make him peel the banana rather than eat cut up pieces, or when he loses a foot race to the car.
He’s three when he’s in OT, not quite grasping his pencil the right way, when he’s a bit behind in his ability to manipulate and grasp.
He’s five when he beats Angry Birds on Dan’s phone.
He’s two (or younger) when he gravitates toward the baby toys at playgroup, looking for any object with cause and effect, anything he can manipulate easily for instant reward, rather than the toy farm or trucks the other kids are playing with.
He’s three when he plays alongside other kids more often than playing with them, able to tolerate their presence but not that interested in involving them.
He’s two when he starts screaming and hitting the child who won’t give him a turn.
He's five when on a different day and in a different mood he's chasing the same child (of kindergarten age) on the playground or playing hide and seek.
He's four every day, in a class of mostly four-year-olds. Yet in some ways four is less than an age and more of an average.
I think all kids have a little of this. There aren't many who follow those milestone books to a "T." With autism, the developmental extremes are just more, well, extreme.
This is what is hard to convey sometimes, when my son looks five, is four, speaks fairly well, but sometimes throws fits or plays like a toddler. I try to remember this, when I see a child for whom everything is not quite adding up. There is, I know, nearly always a story behind the story.