Chronological age is how old a person is in years and developmental age is how old a person thinks. It is important to know the difference because just because a child is a certain age chronologically does not mean he or she understands grief at that age developmentally.
If a child is either gifted or has developmental disabilities, it will affect his or her developmental age. A gifted child may have a chronological age of 6, for example, but a developmental age of 12. This child may be young, but will understand what is going on more than you would think and will be more affected by the loss than you might expect. Conversely, a child with developmental disabilities might be older, but will understand things with the capacity of a much younger child. Consider, for example, a child of 12 chronological age. This child has a development disability that makes his developmental age more like that of an 8 year old. He will not experience the loss or grieve in the same way most adolescents will.
Your interactions with these children will have to be personalized, because in most cases they will understand and experience the loss and grieve somewhere in between their developmental and chronological age. Each child is different. Therefore, it is very important to understand both a child’s developmental and chronological age. No child is a typical case. As a social worker, interacting with each child is going to be a little different. You will have to take into account all of the information that is known about the child, and also watch the child closely and talk to the child. Your assessment of the child will determine how he or she is experiencing the loss, and how you should treat the situation and the child.