UK Toddlers Unable to Speak or Play Properly Due to COVID-19 Lockdowns

UK Toddlers Unable to Speak or Play Properly Due to COVID-19 Lockdowns
(Illustration - Twin Design/Shutterstock)
Owen Evans

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) say they are “very worried” about the number of toddlers in the UK that are struggling with communication because of repeated lockdowns.

Therapists and charities have expressed fears about a sharp decline in speech and motor skills, with referrals for language therapy doubling. Speech and language therapy sessions are provided to children (and adults) to help them communicate.

Unable to Keep Up

Kamini Gadhok, the chief executive of the RCSLT, told the Telegraph that its members were “very worried” about the number of toddlers struggling with communication and that its member therapists are unable to keep up with demand.

“The bigger the gap by the time the child is five, the more difficult it is to close,” she said. Gadhok warned that without early intervention, those children are far more likely to suffer emotional and behavioural problems.

Assessments showed that one in five children are not meeting expected standards by the age of two-and-a-half, with thousands likely to need help such as speech and language therapy.

In The Conversation, Yvonne Wren, founder and director of ChildSpeech wrote that masks “obscure facial expression, which contributes to how we understand the meaning behind the words we hear. When this is taken away, not only is the potential for misunderstanding (and mislearning) increased but there can also be an impact on children’s development of social and emotional skills.”

According to Wren, not only was there a reduction in children’s exposure to new vocabulary, but there was much less interaction with teachers, friends, and family, and these are some of the ways that lockdown affected children’s speech.

“Our members tell us that growing lists and waiting times for speech and language therapy are dramatically impacting on their ability to provide the support which children need for the best start in life,” said Gadhok.

Jane Harris Chief Executive of I CAN, UK’s leading children’s communication charity told The Epoch Times by email that “it is not surprising that COVID lockdowns left toddlers unable to speak or play properly.”

“There has been a sharp rise in child development issues in the wake of COVID. Our research suggests that 1.5 million children in the UK are struggling to learn to speak and understand language,” she said.

Harris said that 62 percent of primary school teachers and 60 percent of secondary school teachers it had surveyed were worried that children currently behind will not be able to catch up.

“Ongoing cuts to services post pandemic only serve to dramatically reduce the access to speech and language therapy provision, meaning that children and their families cannot get the right help at the right time,” she added.

“The new Integrated Care Boards must plan locally with education partners to get speech and language support to children that need it. Low-cost interventions delivered by teaching assistants can help, alongside more specialist support from Speech and Language Therapists,” said Harris.

Worrying Picture

Alison Morton, the executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting told the Telegraph that the latest data was a “worrying picture” and there was a backlog of children who needed support.

“The latest national child development data highlight a worrying picture with fewer children at or above the expected level of development at two to two-and-a-half years. While the majority of children are developing as expected, a significant and growing minority are not,” she said.

In March, a probe (pdf) by North Wales Community Health Council (NWCHC) found that the progress that was made by children in their speech was completely lost due to the first lockdown in March 2020.

“Many parents told us that they felt their children had lost services at a crucial stage in their development and that this was compounded by the absence of interaction with other children due to home schooling. Some parents felt that their children had lost all progress made in previous months and that the effect upon their child’s development had been devastating,” wrote NWCHC.