How masks may be affecting children’s speech development

Updated: Mar. 29, 2021 at 11:13 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - We’re one year into mask-wearing, and experts are looking at how masks may be affecting children’s speech development.

Babies and young children use our faces to learn and use visual cues they see when others are talking that play a key role in developing their own communication skills.

A speech-language pathologist at Baton Rouge General said masks have made it difficult for our little ones to see their parent’s faces or their staff at daycare.

“We’ve had really great pediatricians in the area that have done such a great job of being aware of what’s going on,” said Megan Dewberry, Speech-Language Pathologist with Baton Rouge General. “We’ve had really great early referrals. Early intervention is one of the best ways for us to know if a child is struggling; we’re able to catch them up quickly.

Dewberry also said when a little one is learning to speak, they’ll look at your eyes or your mouth to learn those sounds. With having the masks covering that area, it’s harder to develop that language. It’s especially true for kids spending more time at daycare during the week than at home with families.

How do you know if your child is struggling?

Dewberry said you should talk to your pediatrician about their development at every milestone from 18 months, 24 months and so on. If you’re concerned, you should speak to a developmental specialist.

It never hurts to have an evaluation completed. She said worst-case scenario, a speech pathologist will tell you everything is age-appropriate, and they give you a list of what exercises to do at home.

If a speech pathologist sees some weaknesses in these areas, they’ll create a care plan just for your child and help them meet their goals, so they’re not continuing to have delays in their development.

There are ways for families to make sure their kids develop these skills.

When families are at home with kids unmasked, it’s crucial to maximize time together. Dewberry said to play together, spend time on the floor, get in close proximity, make meaningful time with play, modeling and talk about everything you’re doing.

“Therapy has been a little bit different with COVID, but it’s been really great as we’ve had great parents, and we’ve done so much parent education and modeling in our treatments sessions,” said Dewberry. “The progress that we’re seeing is really the same as before, so I can attribute that to all of our wonderful families.”

As numbers improve in the BR area and as changes, policies and mask-wearing continue to loosen she hopes that this won’t continue to be a problem. As we continue into 2021 and 2022 she hopes to resume more normal ways of doing therapy.

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