Lauren Moye, FISM NEWS
A Florida speech pathologist reported an astronomical rise in speech-delayed babies and toddler patients in her clinic.
Jaclyn Theek, the clinic director and speech-language pathologist at Speech and Learning Institute in North Palm Beach, reported a 364% increase in baby and toddler patients since pre-pandemic days.
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.”
Before COVID-19, this age grouping only made up 5% of her patients. Now, they comprise 20%.
Theek pointed her finger strongly at masking policies for causing this surge in speech-delays in an ABC-affiliated WPBF report. This report that includes interviews with local patients has since been picked up and shared on social media and other news sites like the National Pulse.
The report is unsurprising for anybody who intuitively understands the importance of viewing faces and social interaction to a young child who is developing their speech. John Hopkins Researcher Dr. Marty Makary is one of a few doctors who sounded an early alarm about this potential side-effect. He shared Theek’s report:
Developmental delays take time to manifest. What Dr. Meissner & I warned about is now evident:
Jaclyn Theek, speech-lang pathologist director @ the Speech & Learning Institute, reporting "a 364% increase in patients who were babies and toddlers"
We should have seen this coming. https://t.co/ClDDKvPJWR
— Marty Makary MD, MPH (@MartyMakary) January 22, 2022
Theek and Makary stand in stark contrast to other trusted authority figures on the subject. For example, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLHA) has been adamant since last August that masks do not cause speech delays in young children.
For those concerned about the impact of masks on children’s speech/language development, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association & American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement in August 2021 saying there is no evidence masks delay communication development. pic.twitter.com/rvJqVRQm4Y
— Matthew Gillikin (@mtgillikin) January 28, 2022
The ASHA retains this stance when asked directly about Theek’s report. Dr. Diane Paul, who is a speech-language pathology director for ASHA told Reuters via email, “At this time, there is no evidence that use of facemasks by adults when talking to children prevents or delays speech and language development in typically developing young children.”
This lack of evidence is something Theek admitted in her WPBF interview. She said, “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 then added, “It’s very important that kids do see your face to learn, so they’re watching your mouth.”
While Theek’s report has little weight more than anecdotal evidence, the rise in her patient numbers that correlate with the pandemic hint that there is either a problem surfacing or a greater awareness in engaged parenting that recognizes early speech delays.
Parents should keep in mind that 12-month-olds can usually say five to ten words including “mama” and “dada”. This number jumps to 25 to 50 words by a year-and-a-half. By age 2, a child’s vocabulary should be in the hundreds.
Whether masking and social distancing has impacted small children or not, the guidelines for helping children better learn to speak remain. Healthline recommends reading daily, teaching some basic sign language to toddlers, using real words instead of baby talk, and describing tasks that you are doing such as changing a diaper or cooking.