Against "mental age"

The Small Places

Why do so many judgments from the Court of Protection use ‘mental age’ to describe people with learning disabilities?  I’ve lost count of the number of judgments where this is used.  Presumably it’s occurring because at some point an expert psychologist or psychiatrist has used the term in a report, but I really wish they wouldn’t.

I remember learning about ‘mental age’ when I was an undergraduate studying psychology.  It’s a concept derived from certain kinds of psychometric tests.  In the early twentieth century two psychologists – Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon – developed tests of children’s verbal abilities to identify ‘mental retardation’, often for the purpose of diverting these children away from mainstream education.  It’s origins were in creating a ‘scientific’ measure to justify exclusion from mainstream society.

Simon and Binet calculated mental age by working out the ‘normal’ performance of children of different ages on various tests they…

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