FL Therapist: Masking Has Led To a Massive Increase Speech Delayed Kids

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PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. —

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say putting a face mask on your child is a critical tool in slowing the spread of COVID-19, however, some in the health community are now sounding an alarm.

Therapists say they are seeing children with speech delays.

Gregg Santos brings his son, Diego, to speech therapy twice a week.

“He would just ramble, baby ramble,” Santos said. “Certain words that are key did not flow, so that began to raise a red flag.”

Santos said his son was born perfectly healthy at the start of a pandemic.

“We’d go out and walk around the neighborhood, and there would be no one there…everyone just stayed in,” Santos said.

Santos said he believes social isolation and everyone wearing masks lead to Diego’s speech delays.

“It bothers me,” Santos said. “It bothers me a lot.”

“This has been a very challenging year,” said Jaclyn Theek, a clinic director and speech-language pathologist at the Speech and Learning Institute in North Palm Beach.

She said that during this pandemic, her speech therapy clinic has seen an enormous shift in the ages of its patients. Before the pandemic, only 5% of patients were babies and toddlers, while today it soared to 20%. Many parents call it “COVID-delayed.”

“We’ve seen a 364% patient increase in patient referrals of babies and toddlers from pediatricians and parents,” Theek said.

When asked if they are children having a difficult time speaking, Theek said they are “speech-delayed.”

Babies start learning how to speak by reading lips at as young as 8-months-old. So when lips and faces are covered up by masks, therapists say for some kids, they can work around the mask and still learn to speak perfectly fine. But for others, it can cause speech delays.

“There’s no research out there yet saying that this could be causing speech and language delays. But, most definitely, I’m sure it’s a factor,” Theek said. “It’s very important that kids do see your face to learn, so they’re watching your mouth.”

While holding an orange-colored marker up to her son, Briana Gay asked her child, “Can you say ‘orange’? Orange. That was a good try.”

Gay is raising five children, but it’s her youngest who needs therapy.

“It definitely makes a difference when the world you are growing up in, you can’t interact with people and their face. That’s super important to babies,” Gay said.

Theek said, “We are seeing a lot of things that look like autism. They’re not making any word attempts. And not communicating at all with their family.”

Researchers will need time to determine whether COVID-19 masks are the official cause of delayed speech. Still, therapists tell parents that early intervention is key — and that’s already working for Diego.

“He’s going to be totally fine. I think so,” Santos said.

Doctors are telling parents to look for these speech milestones in young children:

  • At 12-months-old, toddlers typically say about five to ten words, such as “mama” and “dada.”
  • At 18-months-old, most kids can say 25 to 50 words.
  • By 2-years-old, kids should be saying hundreds of words.

The biggest piece of advice, therapists say, is to give your kids your time. When parents are home and the mask is off, turn off the media and instead read to your child, play and sing with them, so they can observe speech.

Original Article: https://www.wpbf.com/article/palm-beach-covid-therapist-speech-delays/38189805

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