Why Pediatric Speech Therapy Demand is WAY Up
If you have sought pediatric speech therapy in Cleveland over the last two years, you’ve likely been confronted with a noticeable spike in delays for specialist appointments and therapy services. While child Northeast Ohio speech therapy clinics like Therapy & Wellness Connection are doing all they can to minimize waitlists and facilitate early intervention services as quickly as possible for kids who need it, the fact is that demand has been soaring post-pandemic. This is due to several interconnected factors.
In a recent poll of more than 1,000 pediatric speech therapy and audiology professionals, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) revealed most experienced an increased in referrals for hearing, speech, and language delays and disorders over the past 2 years. Compared to pre-pandemic numbers, the spike is significant.
Pediatric speech therapists report fielding more reports of:
- Behavioral problems.
- Social-emotional regulation issues.
- Speech delays.
- Language difficulties.
There are a number of reasons for this.
On the audiology side of things, they report:
- Children with exacerbated hearing damage due to frequent and untreated ear infections. For some, it was tougher to get doctor’s appointments during that time, especially if they lost their job and didn’t have health insurance. For others, fear of catching or spreading the virus kept them home.
- Delayed diagnosis of hearing loss. More than one-third of audiologists reported an uptick in patients who weren’t quickly diagnosed with hearing loss due to fewer contacts with doctors, daycare providers, peers and other third parties during the pandemic.
On the pediatric speech therapy side of things, SLPs reported issues with:
- Poorer social-emotional communication. Nearly 80 percent of SLPs surveyed said they’re seeing kids with greater social communication difficulties than before. Some of this is likely due to fewer opportunities for social interaction and play with peers and outside adults in daycare, preschool, school, etc.
- Excess screen time. 51% of SLPs and audiologists reported young children spending much more time on screens like tablets and smartphones today compared to before the pandemic. Too much screen time has been directly linked to communication delays and problem-solving developmental-delays among young children.
- Lack of physician referrals to speech therapists during the pandemic. People weren’t seeing their doctors as often for routine issues during the pandemic. For kids under 5, that meant a critical window of developmental issues may have gone overlooked. Doctor referrals are what kickstarts the process to begin speech therapy. Now we’re working on catching up.
Our pediatric speech therapists at Therapy & Wellness Connection scrambled to quickly provide teletherapy to our clients, allowing us to bridge the gap for existing patients. But that didn’t help with patients whose referrals and diagnoses were delayed due to pandemic-related issues.
None of this should shame parents if they were delayed in seeking speech therapy services for their child. But anyone who has concerns about their child’s communication should avoid a wait-and-see approach, understanding that there may be a delay in appointments, evaluations, and initiation of services due to the ongoing backlog.
The one glimmer of good news from the ASHA poll was that nearly 70% of pediatric speech therapy and audiology providers reported improvements in parental awareness about the warning signs of communication disorders over the last 10 years. Considering that lack of awareness of early indicators of speech-language delays is a leading factor that hinders early intervention therapies, this is a big victory.
It’s so important for parents to understand that the time period between birth and 3-years-old is a critical window for speech, language, and communication development. Limiting recreational screen time is important for this age group. Take time to talk, sing, play, and read books with your young child. And if you have any concerns about your child’s speech-language development, our clinic can provide an initial consultation to determine whether a full assessment is necessary.
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.
More Blog Entries:
Study: Baby Speech-Language Development Delay & Screen Time Linked, Aug. 21, 2023, Pediatric Speech Therapy Blog