Are you worried that the pandemic has affected your child’s speech development?
As a parent, sometimes it can be difficult to judge your child’s major development milestones, especially as they hit toddlerhood. The Covid-19 pandemic made this problem more prevalent than ever- parenting became a challenge, and speech delays among toddlers increased.
Even before the pandemic, experts were concerned about the prevalence of speech-sound disorders (SSD), such as stuttering, apraxia, and lack of social communication. For example, a study found that approximately 17% or 1 in 6 children were diagnosed with a developmental disability between 2009 and 2017.
But Covid-19 worsened these problems as children’s social interactions were limited following the global implementation of pandemic countermeasures such as social distancing and lockdowns. A more recent study conducted in 2022 found that children born during the pandemic have nearly twice the risk for developmental delays, especially in speech and social communication delays, compared to children born before the pandemic.
What is causing the Covid-related speech delays?
There are several reasons associated with delayed speech development among toddlers born during the pandemic;
- Fewer interactions with other children due to isolation, for example, from family visits, group childcare environments, and play dates
- The use of masks prevents toddlers from observing facial expressions and mouth movements for speech
- Parents are no longer exchanging information as frequently about their growing children due to reduced check visits and interactions with other parents
In an interview with local news, Jessie Willis, a speech-language pathologist in Atlanta, explained, “Before the pandemic, parents were going to their well checks. They were going to daycares. They were socializing with other families. And then, when everything shut down, well-check visits were delayed, which means early intervention services were delayed. Families stopped socializing, and daycares shut down.”
With these issues, it has become much harder for children to socialize and play, resulting in Covid-related speech and language delays.
How do you know that your child is struggling with speech delays?
There are various red flags to watch out for as a parent of a ‘pandemic baby’ to ensure that potential speech problems are identified on time.
How does your child play with other children? Does your toddler have any friends or siblings to play with? Does the child imitate you, reach or point at things for you? Does the toddler understand what you say? These questions can help you identify potential problems reflecting speech delays in your toddler, allowing you to seek early intervention.
If you are concerned that the pandemic has affected your child’s speech development, here are a few things you need to remember;
- Talk to your toddler; children are more likely to learn to talk best when they are consistently engaged in simple conversations
- If you are the caregiver, the child is more likely to learn to talk best from you
- Communicating with the toddler during daily routines and experiences such as meal time, bath time, storytime, or playtime help your child learn better
Strategies you can use at home for pandemic-related speech delays
If you are worried about whether your child can catch up, remember there is a lot you can do to help your child overcome speech and language problems at home.
- Create opportunities for your child to talk
We use language to share experiences and communicate with people in our lives. However, children with speech delays may not talk much. Speech delays can mean that the toddler learns to talk late or talks less compared to other kids their age or uses gestures such as pointing at things instead of talking.
As a parent or caregiver, you can create opportunities for the child to talk, thus improving their ability to interact and communicate with others. For example, you can place a favorite toy in a place where the child can see but cannot access it without help. This creates an opportunity for the child to talk to get something they want. However, it is critical to note that children with underdeveloped speech may have challenges communicating. As a result, they may end up making some noise or showing attempts at talking.
- Expand on words
Research shows that language-rich interactions with caregivers improve language and cognitive development in early childhood. One way you can facilitate rich language as a parent or caregiver is by responding to what your child says and adding some details. For example, if your child points to and says “car,” you can respond by saying, “yes, that is a big black car.” In this case, you are acknowledging what your child says while at the same time providing more words that the child can learn and use to describe the car next time.
- Make time to read to your toddler every day
Reading to your toddler is a great way of bonding and helps to develop their brain. You will find that choosing books that your child will enjoy and that are fun to read is an excellent way to help overcome speech and language problems. For example, you can choose books with large pictures and simple words, phrases, or sentences. Point to the image and the terms while reading them out, and ask the child to repeat what you are doing and saying. This practice can help strengthen their language skills.
I recommend you check out my original children’s books that combine unique hand-painted illustrations and stories, teaching effective communication and speech skills for families.
- Ensure that your toddler is getting enough sleep
Quality sleep is critical for children with speech delays. During the REM cycle of sleep, when the brain organizes information, new knowledge is categorized, understood, and combined with other information to make sense of it. The information processes during this period could include new words for children, memories, and emotions.
Therefore, if your child is not getting quality, deep sleep, their brain may fail to appropriately organize new information, including new words and phrases learned. This situation can result in developmental issues, including language and speech delays. Thus ensuring that your child gets adequate sleep can help improve your child’s speech development.
- Giesbrecht, G. et al. (2022, February 3). Increased risk for developmental delay among babies born during the pandemic. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/j7kcn
- Zablotsky et al. (2019). Prevalence and trends of developmental disabilities among children in the United States: 2009–2017. Pediatrics, 144(4), e20190811. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7076808/
- Liza Lucas (2021). Experts warn of childhood developmental delays in some children due to pandemic. https://www.11alive.com/article/news/local/experts-pandemic-isolation-screen-time-leading-to-childhood-developmental-delays-in-some-children/85-5cd83561-8859-4b11-9a95-9b27fe883f68
- Zauche et al. (2016). Influence of language nutrition on children’s language and cognitive development: An integrated review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 318-333. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0885200616300151?via%3Dihub
- Walkie Talkie Speech Therapy. Benefits of Reading to Children. https://walkietalkiespeechtherapy.com/benefits-of-reading-to-children/
- Walkie Talkie Speech Therapy. How Does Sleep Affect Speech & Language Development in Toddlers? https://walkietalkiespeechtherapy.com/science-of-sleep-and-toddlers-language-development/