Lockdown Losses | Recovering Lost Speech and Language Skills

Skills Lost or Delayed During Lockdown

A recent study of over 50,000 preschoolers in England showed that current 4 and 5-year-olds are showing speech and language delays in greater numbers than before. A similar study in Los Angeles confirmed the British study. Because children did not experience the social and cognitive interactions they would have if not for the pandemic, their skills are delayed.

And, these two studies only addressed typically developing children, not those with identified learning disabilities. Over the past 12+ months, children have missed out on so much. From seeing their grandparents on a regular basis to spending time with their friends at school, this global pandemic has changed many young lives.

lost speech and language skills

It feels very uplifting to see so many people getting vaccinated and our daily activities returning to normal. However, as far as our kids and their learning, we’ve only just begun. We have a long road ahead of us as most of our kids lost 12-16 months of normalcy. Anecdotally, many teachers, therapists, and child care providers are noticing delays in speech and language as well as trouble sharing and being in groups.

As a parent and special education advocate, yes, we must ensure that our kids receive the Covid Compensatory Services that they are entitled to.

However, this is much bigger than that. And, the issue is much bigger than what one school team can do in a school year. It’s on us as parents to do our part and help with the accelerated learning. Sure, here in the USA we don’t have to wear masks anymore (if vaccinated) but we still have a lot of recovery ahead of us.

Pandemic, Stress and Trauma

Compound the learning losses with other issues the child may have experienced during the pandemic. Things such as:

Children mask these concerns in different ways. Some may begin to exhibit behaviors or anxiety. Others just do not have the cognitive horsepower to do all the things, and learning disabilities or delays are exacerbated.

However, this does not mean that these changes cannot be reversed and their skills tightened up. Of course, for some kids, there is an urgent need for professional support via a speech and language therapist, but for others, their needs can be met differently. If you suspect delays, your first step is to request a comprehensive evaluation from your child’s school.

If you are concerned that your child’s language skills might have been adversely affected by lockdown, here are some strategies that should help.

And, looking at this list–I get it. Some of this stuff does not come naturally to me. Despite being quite verbose on this site and in online IEP coaching, in my personal life, I am a woman of few words. I genuinely do not talk a lot or engage in a lot of conversation. As an introvert, it does not come naturally to me. But, as a parent, I am making the extra effort for my kids.

Working on Speech and Social Skills at Home

  1. Spend Time Talking About their Day-We all know how difficult it is to get children talking after a long day spent in school. “How was your day, darling?” is often answered with a grunt (it can sometimes feel as though reception-aged children have suddenly turned into teens at this moment!) or something equally void of an answer that we end up wishing we had asked the wall instead. But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying! Sitting around the dinner table, eating, and chatting about the day’s events can be hugely beneficial to both speech and language skills as well as social skills. Doing this can also ensure that the family spends quality time together. Learning to form both questions and answers is an essential skill for young children to learn and practice regularly. Doing so at home is vital and something which will most definitely serve them well in later life.
  • Playing Games-It is incredible the amount of language that there is to be gained from playing simple games, such as chutes and ladders, tic-tac-toe, and even outdoor games, such as hopscotch. Not only does playing games promote turn-taking in terms of the physical nature of it, but it can also support turn-taking when it comes to conversation. You can pose questions such as Who is winning? Whose turn is it? Who do you think is going to win? and so on. This approach can help improve speech and language skills but also allow quality time spent together, parent and child, doing something fun. Just don’t throw your toys out of the pram when your child beats you!
  • Study Pictures-Ok, so this one might sound a little bit strange, but bear with it. Studying pictures together can be a great lead into a discussion. You won’t be expected to take your child to an art gallery necessarily to discuss a painting, for example, but spending time chatting about a picture in a reading book or one that’s hanging on your wall perhaps can provide lots of opportunities to engage your child in conversation. One of my favorite activities is to grab a Where’s Waldo? book. Not only is it fun to work together to try to find Wally, but it can also be a great way to pose questions, such as Is Wally hiding behind a tree? Do you think that Waldo is actually on this page somewhere? Once your child’s comprehension levels are a little more advanced, you may wish to try asking questions linked to inference and deduction, such as, Where do you think that person has been? Who do you reckon has been hanging around the longest? There are no right or wrong answers for this activity. However, children should be able to use information from the rest of the picture to justify their answers.
  • Encourage FaceTime and Video Chats-There really is no substitute for face-to-face contact. However, when it is impossible, for example, if a relative lives far away or the school bubble has closed again for whatever reason, FaceTime, Skype or Zoom, whatever platform you prefer to use, can be a brilliant opportunity to practice those conversational skills in a modern way. You may be wondering why it is preferable to use this kind of technology over a standard telephone conversation, but being able to read people’s body language, see their lip patterns as they talk, and actually see if they’re paying attention to what the speaker is saying are all critical parts of the development of speech and language skills.
  • Gently Correct-Children go through phases as they are acquiring language skills. For example, at a very young age, a child will point to items and use single words to get their point across. As they age, they will form basic sentences but perhaps not conjugate the verbs correctly. Pronoun misuse is common, too, with children often saying, Me want more rather than I want more. While it would be understandable to correct a child each time they make a mistake, it can be demotivating for some. Especially those who realize they struggle in certain areas. If your child says, I brung it home, gently reply, You brought it home? Oh, how nice. Doing it this way will reinforce the correct sentence structure or verb form.
  • Word Games-Playing a game that combines work on both memory and word building is a fantastic and fun activity for the whole family. If you think back to being a child, you undoubtedly played games where each player added an item or word, such as I went to the market and I bought a… where you could go through the alphabet. You could use this as an opportunity to build your child’s vocabulary as well as learning how to build sentences. In other words, rather than I went to the market and bought an apple and a banana and a carrot, they should say I went to the market and bought an apple, a banana and a carrot. Alternatively, you could practice letter and sound recognition by adding adjectives to the nouns, such as an attractive apple or a black banana.

Ultimately, switching off the television and focusing on quality conversation will support your child to boost their speech and language skills. Easier said than done! If you are watching TV, watch shows and movies as a family that you can discuss as a family.

However, if you do have concerns, please ensure you speak to your child’s teacher or the person responsible for special educational needs at school to address the situation. Or consider talking to your pediatrician about a private speech and language evaluation.

Site Owner’s Note: Thank you so much to Vicki L, a Special Education Teacher, for providing us with this informative article.

lockdown lost speech and language skills
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