Even under normal conditions, children vary exceedingly with regard to their mental development and brain capacity. The same family may include one child who is just naturally bright and clever, an extremely precocious sister, and a brother who is a veritable dunce, in the sense that he seems incapable of attaining to the minimum average standard of his age.
Both the extremely precocious and the extremely backward children are abnormal, and require special care and treatment from the mother. The " letting alone " policy is fatal in the case of a backward child, who can be immensely improved under a course of wise teaching and health care.
No mother need be unduly despondent because her child seems to be backward. For one thing, backwardness may be only apparent. Many a child who has been considered something of a dunce at school becomes a brilliant man of affairs in after life. The higher type may develop more slowly than the mediocre. The gamin of the slums is quick, clever, precocious for his years, but it is a mushroom growth which is not fulfilled in after life.
If a mother observes that her girl or boy is decidedly backward, and even stupid, in the ordinary work and business of child life, the first thing she should do is to consult the family doctor. The great mistake which most people make is in not utilising the doctor to advise them as to the management of the different children in health. They wait until a child has a temperature or an infectious fever, until his nerves are almost shattered, or he is deaf, or seriously dyspeptic, before the doctor is called in at all. The ideal plan is for every child to visit the dentist, and be medically inspected by the family doctor once in six months. Thus, many illnesses and diseases would be prevented altogether, and the plan would prove a very big economy in the long run.
With regard to the backward child, the doctor would first advise lighter lessons. Anything in the shape of brain forcing must be avoided, although it does not follow that lessons should be stopped altogether. Brain work in moderation, and of the right type, is a good thing for the backward child, although strain in any shape or form is exceedingly bad. The next point is to provide a quiet life without excitement or excessive stimulation of any sort. The backward child cannot stand brain excitement, and even loud
A backward child should live, as far as possible, out of doors. His lessons and his play can be arranged on a little table and chair in the garden. Everything in the way of competition with others must be avoided and kindergarten work preferred to ordinary lessons noises affect him mentally for the worse. Plenty of sleep comes under the heading of providing ample rest. Careful diet, on the lines of the article on food in the nursery in an earlier section of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia, is a very important matter (page 207, Vol. 1). The backward child should have light diet, very little, if any, butcher's meat, and nothing which is likely to upset his digestion. It sometimes happens that a child who is backward mentally is very liable to digestive disturbances, and the one condition reacts upon the other. Careful dieting will in itself improve the brain condition, because it prevents the accumulation of poisons in the blood, which have a very deleterious affect upon the brain.
As far as possible, the child must live under natural conditions. Fresh air in abundance is one of the best medicines he can have. He must live out of doors, play out of doors, take his meals out of doors, and even sleep in the open air, if it can be managed at all. Healthy play as a measure for improving the mental condition of the backward child must not be neglected. Whatever educates the muscles improves the development of certain areas of the brain. The immensely beneficial effect of manual work for imbecile children has recently been noted by several observers, the reason being that various tracts and areas of the brain regulate the muscles, and the manual training directly improves the nerve cells and fibres, probably by increasing the blood flow to these parts.
Kindergarten work is excellent for the backward child, as it provides him with manual training in a simple and interesting form. Even brick-building affects the mental condition, because a child's muscular sense is developed by this means, that is, his muscles have to work in co-ordination, and he learns balance and adjustment. Whenever the weather permits, let the child work out of doors; brush-painting, drawing, building, modelling can all be arranged on a little table and chair in the garden, on a balcony, on any strip of yard or court. When that is not possible, at least have the windows wide open, and if the child is well wrapped up there is not the least danger of catching cold.
With regard to book knowledge proper, the child must hasten slowly. Anything in the shape