Akron child speech delays

Speech Delays Higher Among Ohio Kids Whose Early Years Were During Pandemic

Kids in Ohio (and across the world) who were born or spent some of their earliest years as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe are now showing signs of developmental delays. In particular, researchers are noting higher rates of communication and speech delays, motor skill delays, and behavioral delays. It’s been most widely noted among children who are now toddlers all the way up to preschoolers.

As Akron pediatric speech therapists, we have also seen an uptick in parents and caregivers expressing concern for children who are not meeting all the key developmental milestones identified as typical for other kids their age.

This emerging trend has been reported anecdotally, but also in an increasing body of research. An analysis in Ohio looked at speech delays among children in a dozen central Ohio neighborhoods. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 27 percent of kids ages 3 to 5 tested by a Columbus non-profit speech and hearing center failed the speech-language assessment. Post-pandemic, that number shot to 52 percent.

Some other examples include:

  • A study by pediatric neurologists published last fall in the British Medical Journal Archives of Disease in Childhood found that babies in the U.K. born between March 2020 and May 2020 had a more difficult time communicating at 1 year of age compared to those born between 2008 and 2011. Most babies by 9 months are pointing at objects, and by 1 year, are saying their first words. Of the older infants, 90 percent could articulate numerous words at age 1, compared to 77 percent of those born during the pandemic. The share of 1-year-old infants who pointed to objects also fell from 93 percent to 84 percent. The percentage who waved goodbye also dropped, from 94 percent to 88 percent. A quarter of the younger cohort had never met a child their own age by their 1st birthday.
  • Two studies – one by the Rhode Island Hospital and another by the nonprofit LENA Foundation – found that babies born during the pandemic vocalized less and engaged in fewer interactions compared to those born prior to the pandemic. Theories on causation ranged from lack of exposure (just generally being exposed to fewer human interactions involving face-to-face communication – play dates, library story times, daycare, family gatherings, etc.), increased caregiver stress, and excess screen time in many homes where parents had to work while also caring for their children. It’s also possible that early intervention screening was not at optimal levels for kids in many areas. (The Columbus non-profit speech & hearing center referenced early is one of many centers across the U.S. that weren’t conducting screenings face-to-face – or at all – during the better part of 2020.)
  • Researchers at Columbia University published a study showing that babies born in New York City from March to December of 2020 had markedly less developed social and motor skills by 6 months than babies born earlier.
  • Chinese researchers published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics in 2021 showing substantially delayed fine motor skills among babies born in 2020, and communication & speech delays in kids who turned 1 at some point in 2020.
  • A study published last year by educators in the United Kingdom found an uptick in problem behaviors, such as hitting and biting, as well as trouble acclimating to large group socializations. This was particularly problematic among 4- and 5-year-olds who were between 0 and 2 when the pandemic first broke out.

Part of the reason these issues are so concerning – and should not be ignored- is because of what we know about early childhood development and the importance of early intervention. There is an explosive amount of brain growth, neural connectivity, and learning that goes on in the first three years of live, continuing usually until around the age of 5. If there is an issue, identifying and addressing it as soon as possible is associated with the best long-term outcomes.

This is why we urge parents and caregivers who suspect their child may be delayed with speech, language, communication, social skills, motor skills, or behavior skills to seek a referral from your child’s pediatrician for closer evaluations. It doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong.” But the longer we take to address delays, the further behind a child can get. Intervening with speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or sometimes ABA/behavior therapy as early as possible yields the best results.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Speech and Language Developmental Milestones, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

More Blog Entries:

How Cleveland Speech Therapists Help Treat Preschool Language Disorders, Dec. 10, 2022, Akron Speech Therapy Blog