June 29, 2021

How Masks Impacted Children’s Speech Development

When it comes to the impact masks have had on children’s speech, experts say it’s been a mixed bag.

“There are a lot of speech pathologists and teachers that are seeing a little bit of a decline in children’s speaking.” said Renee Krupp, a speech pathologist at Memorial Healthcare. “Other ones are saying ‘Oh no, they’re more boisterous.'”

According to Krupp, kids learn just as much about speech and emotion from seeing our faces, as they do from hearing our voices.

“They’re watching our faces, and learning how we’re making sound with our mouths and looking at our eyes and expressions,” she said.

MSU Human Development Professor Claire Vallotton says there’s a possibility some toddlers who spent a lot of time in daycare and school during the pandemic could experience a word learning delay. However, she points out that facial expressions and body language can do a lot to compensate.

“Eyes let us know what we’re paying attention to, so when I go to name, say, a ‘banana’… the baby would follow my eyes to see that I’m looking at a banana.,” said Vallotton. “Seeing how to form the word ‘banana’ with my mouth is not actually as crucial as hearing ‘banana’ and seeing it.”

If you’re concerned about your child’s speech, Krupp recommends talking to your pediatrician who can put you in touch with a speech pathologist. She also recommends focusing on quality conversations at home: reading books, singing songs, asking them questions about activities at home.

“If they say ‘Oh car’… expand on that.” she said. “‘Yes, that’s a big red car’… giving them that extra language…. that goes along with what they’re already doing.”

Both women expect that the impact masks had on children will become a big topic of research in their field in the future.

“It might be a little awkward for a while, but the pandemic hasn’t been long enough that with adult support… all of that will be recoverable,” said Valloton

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