Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 32: Mental Slowness

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Mental slowness is a delay in a child’s mental development. The child learns things more slowly than other children his age. He may be late at beginning to move, smile, show interest in things, use his hands, sit, walk, speak, and understand. Or he may develop some of these skills more quickly, but be slower in others.

Mental slowness ranges from mild to severe. The child who is mildly slow takes longer to learn certain skills. But with help he can grow up to care for himself and take an active, responsible part in the community. The child who is severely slow, as he grows older, may stay at the mental age of a baby or young child. He will always need to be cared for in some ways.

Mental slowness cannot be cured. However, all mentally slow children can be helped to progress more quickly. The earlier special help or ‘stimulation’ begins, the more ability the child is likely to gain.

IMPORTANT! In this chapter we look at some of the causes of mental slowness and briefly describe 2 common forms (Down syndrome and hypothyroidism). However, mental slowness is only one of the reasons for slow development in children. A child who is blind will be slow in learning to reach and move about unless he has extra help and encouragement. A child who is deaf will be delayed in learning to communicate unless he is helped to learn to ‘talk’ in other ways than speech. A child who has a severe physical disability is often slow in developing use of both his body and mind. Because ‘developmental delay’ is common with so many disabilities, we include discussion of it in several separate chapters.
Child learning to write with the guidance of an adult
With help, some mentally slow children can learn to read and write, and do many of the things that normal children do. (Photo of a child with Down syndrome in Indonesia, by Carolyn Watson, Christian Children’s Fund.)

Information on helping a child who is mentally slow or developmentally delayed is in Chapters 34 to 40. Chapters 34 and 35 discuss early child development and ways to help or ‘stimulate’ a child to learn early skills (use of the senses, movement, and communication). Chapters 36 to 39 discuss learning for self-care (feeding, dressing, toileting, and bathing). Chapter 40 discusses child behavior, and ways to encourage behavior that helps learning.

Other ideas for helping mentally slow children are in the CHILD-to-child activity, "Children Who Have Difficulty Understanding". Consider the needs and problems of mentally slow children as they become sexually grown up.

One important need that we do not include in detail in this book is education for mentally slow children. Some possibilities are discussed in Chapter 53, on education. But often special teaching methods and materials are needed. An excellent book is Special Education for Mentally Handicapped Pupils. For toys that help a child learn, see Chapter 49.

This page was updated:21 Nov 2019