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Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Speech & Language Development


The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant threat to learning and language development for large number


The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant threat to learning and language development for large number of children. Children’s lives have turned upside down by COVID-19. These social distancing policies, when compounded with other factors like home confinements, increased screen times, altered schedules including mealtimes and sleep patterns, limited interactions with people, parental stress, restricted linguistic environments, closure of day cares and schools etc., have definitely impacted children’s language development. Although necessary, these practices may have unintended consequences on children’s language and communication skills during their critical development years.


Many researchers have noted delays in speech and language as well as trouble sharing and being in groups, as kids would eventually get used to staying indoors and with limited people at home.


One of the reasons why children may struggle finding their way in lives is because they have difficulty in communicating. So, the impact of COVID-19 on children’s language development in particular is the focus of much local and national interests.


As a Speech Language Pathologist, we have witnessed a drop in children’s language development both in terms of extent and rate of language use during this crisis. We have also come across many parents complaining about regression in their child’s language skill which was already developed. An equal number of toddlers have not progressed to meaningful word level from vocalizations and babbling, few have not mastered phrases and sentences and got sucked up at word level. All these signifies that, language development has taken a troll significantly due this pandemic. Also, we should remember that every milestone has a peak of development. Likewise, language developments reach its peak between 1.5 years to 3.5 years. And we all are well aware that children’s biological clock is not going to stop because of any pandemic. So, as parents and professionals we should be aware and keep an open eye to intervene children whenever required. Early identification and early interventions are only the key factors for children’s development.


Now let’s look into the few of the skills and strategies that can help parents and caregivers to optimize the home environment for speech and language development.


Communication and Language Skills that need to be targeted at home


1) Eye contact and eye gaze

2) Social and reciprocal smile

3) Imperative and declarative pointing

4) Joint play and joint attention

5) Cause and effect relationships

6) Object use and object permanence

7) Non-verbal and verbal imitations

8) Simple gestures for communication


Strategies or tips to enhance the above mentioned language skills

  • Acoustic highlighting

  • Use lot of inflections in voice so that children get attention towards you

  • Use gestures like waving, hi-fi and pointing when appropriate to the scenario

  • Follow your child’s lead

  • Visuals: showing objects and pictures while talking

  • Object naming: name the object that catches child’s interest at that point of time. Ex: talk about the colour, size, number, parts and use

  • Give and take activities

  • Provide proper attention whenever your tries to communicate to you

  • Expansion: expand your child’s vocalisations are words meaningfully and appropriately ex: if child says “wa-wa-wa” for “water” we should expand the babbling by saying “oh! Do you need wa-wa- water, here you go, lets drink water from cup!

  • Parallel talk: try to give running commentary as in cricket to whatever activity your child is doing. Ex: if the child’s is playing with ‘car’, you can sit and involve yourself and try to talk about what he is doing with the car. “Are you going for a ride in the car” “Is your car going on the wall- in case if child rides the car on wall”

  • Be a good role model of speech. Speak clearly and in sentences with simple and correct grammar. Don’t end up much in baby talk.


Conclusion:

We have been working hard during these last 12months to raise the awareness among parents, caregivers and professionals to help them understand the importance of speech and language and how it is everyone’s role to support children to be able to communicate as effectively as possible. The parents of children with significant language delays should always try to schedule the tele-consultations with a certified Speech language pathologist in order to rule out the need of professional help and can start with virtual parent training programs and individualized teletherapy sessions which can help facilitate continuity of care during the pandemic.


Our aim of Daffodils CDC is to make sure that children and families get the right support, in the right place at the right time.

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