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Therapists warn COVID-19 pandemic could cause delay in childhood speech development

Posted at 7:03 PM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-18 19:04:03-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — It's been a year like no other for everyone across the country, including children. Now therapists are looking ahead to the lasting impacts child could face because of the pandemic.

Cynthia Marks is a Speech Language Pathologist and the owner of Southeastern Speech Therapy Services. She says they are already seeing the signs of delayed speech development in children.

"When we have our masks on and we're covering our faces, they're not developing key skills and they're also not able to see our mouth movements. Some of what they do when they're little is watch our mouth movements and they imitate," said Marks.

She says children begin to learn how to speak in their infancy, and it starts by watching adults. The other benefit is learning to recognize facial expressions and equate them with emotions. Hidden behind a mask, many children are now also falling behind on picking up on the emotional cues.

"Parents should be realistic about what [their] child is missing," she said.

Most schools have a speech therapist on hand. However, Marks says they are already swamped with heavy caseloads. She says now is the time for schools, especially pre-school and elementary to prepare for more students in need of help.

"It would be very wise for school districts to look ahead and make accommodations to add resources and facilitate the support they're getting in classrooms," she said."

Speech therapy is especially important to children like Dillon Ramos. Ramos has autism and apraxia. Apraxia is a neurological disorder that makes it harder to do familiar movements, including speak, despite knowing how to.

"He would not be where he is right now without Mrs. Cyndy and her crew," said his mother, Michelle.

Dillon started coming to Southeastern Speech Therapy Services when he was 3. At first, barely any of his words came out correctly. Dillon is now a junior at Chiles High School, with the ability to carry on a conversation.

"Consistency is key," said Michelle Ramos. "We've gone to so many summer camps where they're so excited to tell us about the progress he has made."

However, the coronavirus pandemic has changed Dillon's therapy. Instead of socializing with people in his group sessions, they're done via Zoom. Cynthia Marks says the face-to-face setting is preferable, but any session is better than nothing. Michelle Ramos agrees.

"If he had not been able to do the appointments through Zoom, he definitely would've had some regression and fallen back into old patterns," she said.

Marks encourages parents to talk to their pediatrician and look into free resources to help with speech development. That includes programs offered at school and free screenings at Speech therapy clinics.

"Any parent can pick up the phone, make a phone call, and get a free screening. 15 minutes with a licensed therapist and parents will know if their child is falling behind," she said.

If you're interested in getting in touch with Southeastern Speech Therapy, you can call them at (850) 727-7928.