Speech therapy and impact of pandemic on children

It is often thought that speech therapy is only needed for speech or hearing disorders in children, but the scope of speech therapy is much wider it can be helpful in various disorders like stuttering, misarticulation, hearing defects, voice problems, autism spectrum disorders, acquired language defects,in improving public speaking, speech therapy can be helpful in overall growth and personality development. 

Speech language pathologists are specialists who help in assessing, diagnosing, formulating programs as per the unique needs of every individual. Speech language pathologists help toddlers, children, and adults in improving communication skills in various settings. They make use of various toys, games, flashcards to stimulate the development of speech during each session. 

The pandemic has altered various aspects of our lives, there has been a surge in the cases of development delay and behavioral problems in children after the pandemic. During the pandemic children were pretty much confined to their homes, and there was minimal external stimulus, which is very important for overall development of the child. 

Due to constant one way input from phones, tablets, television along with lack  of external stimulus as kids couldn’t go out to playgrounds, zoos, grandma’s place, etc, their exposure to new vocabulary was further limited. The children in the age group 2 to 3 yrs presented with very small vocabulary, they often spoke gibberish and in cartoon-like voices. 

The founder of sounderic Sanya Modi suggests, less than 30 minutes of screen time for the children in a day, and you should preferably show them real world videos more than cartoons. 

Due to the use of masks during the pandemic we realized how much we rely on reading lips. Children often have difficulty in pronouncing similar sounds like ‘p’ and ‘t’, they have difficulty in differentiating these sounds when the teacher is wearing a mask. We also rely on facial expressions to understand the meaning of words. When masks are used, it not only leads to misunderstanding the words but also has an impact on the social and emotional skills of the children. 

Effect of covid-19 pandemic on children with autism spectrum disorder. 

Fortunately, covid-19 did not spread in children but the pandemic and lockdowns had a severe impact on the children suffering from autism spectrum disorders. 

The disruption in their regular checkups led to delayed diagnosis and yet a delay in the treatment of these kids has led to increase in severity of the behavioral and cognitive issues. 

The hallmark feature of ASD is that children have difficulty in social interaction and communication. Children with ASD thrive in caring and supportive environments such as schools, playgrounds, and therapies. These kids don’t like changes in their routines and with the pandemic there was no fixed routine and it led to behavioral issues with these children. 

The suspension of education, extracurricular activities, and social interactions further worsened the communication skills of these kids. The use of masks also was bothersome to children with sensory sensitivities.

What parents can do to help the child in such situations-

– Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that can keep the child motivated to learn new things. 

– Reward based approach – a child has to complete a certain activity to receive a reward like getting a candy, or some tv time, etc.

– The activities should not be unrealistic, they should be attainable, if you set the goals too high it might end up demotivating the child and they might stop trying. 

– Try mixing harder tasks with simpler tasks. 

– You can create a visual daily schedule that helps maintain consistency. 

– For kids with high functioning autism try incorporating activities that focus more on social skills like letter writing, calls with family members, board games with family as they help them learn about turn taking and patience. 

Online speech therapy or tele-therapy has gained popularity during the pandemic. It has been proven to be equally as effective as in person speech therapy by various researchers. Online speech therapy can be performed at the comfort of your home, the timings can be flexible, the speech language pathologist can provide you with various resources, materials and exercises online.