Masks CAN Affect a Child’s Language Development
Masks CAN Affect a Child’s Language Development
Kids are going to school, preschool, and even day care wearing masks. Not only that, but they see their teachers and caregivers wearing them, too. Which leads many parents to worry if this will affect language development.
Not to worry, said an article at a website sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Just chill, mama, there’s little to worry about:
“While this is a natural concern, there is no known evidence that use of face masks interferes with speech and language development or social communication. Plus, children can still get plenty of face time at home with mask-free family members.”
Ah, “no known evidence.” Those are weasel words that professionals use when they don’t know the real answer. The reason why there is “no known evidence” is because no studies exist which have determined if masks can keep very young children from learning to communicate. But that doesn’t mean they’re not hurting some kids.
Jaclyn Theek, a speech-language pathologist in south Florida, says she’s seen a big jump in referrals to her clinic for delays in language. And this is among the tiniest of patients — babies and toddlers. In fact, Theek said that before the pandemic, about 5% of her clients were in that age range; now it’s about 20%. She also says that “We’ve seen a 364% patient increase in patient referrals of babies and toddlers from pediatricians and parents.”
So is this increase due to masks? In an interview with a West Palm Beach TV station, Theek couched her words carefully, also saying that there are no studies which say so. However, she added:
“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. It’s very important that kids do see your face to learn, so they’re watching your mouth.”
She also said that her clinic is also seeing a lot of autism-like behaviors:
“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.”
Blocking a baby or toddler’s view of an adult’s mouth doesn’t only risk their sound and word development. It can also impair their ability to judge social cues through expressions, which we then use to regulate our emotions.
Think about how your own face looks when you’re happy or sad, surprised or angry. Now think about how much your mouth figures into that expression. And consider that if a baby or toddler attends daycare for hours at a time, they’re losing these important early lessons in communication.
Dr. Vinay Prasad of the University of California, San Francisco, shredded an op-ed in the New York Times which told parents that nah, your kids don’t need to see faces. All they need to see are the eyes. Masks on kids and teachers? It’s all good!
Not only that, but a 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that while children know a “happy” face by the age of five, it takes another five years at least to comprehend other facial expressions.
“The results indicate that there is a slow development of sensitivity to the expression of all basic emotions except happy. This slow development may impact children’s social and cognitive development by limiting their sensitivity to subtle expressions of disapproval or disappointment.”
Now, just imagine how constantly covering these facial cues have affected children for the past two years. Some kids most negatively affected by masks that hide expressions are those on the autism spectrum. Many of them are severely limited in their ability to read social cues during the best of times, and often have severe delays in language, too. They’re at great risk for being unable to adequately communicate with others.
But if we don’t all wear masks we’re gonna die from Covid!
As a speech-language pathologist (SLP) myself, I’ve worked for decades in all sorts of settings: schools, hospitals, clinics, and Head Start programs. I’m no longer working, but before I hung up my spurs I subcontracted part-time to a local agency. While I didn’t have the large caseload that a full time SLP does, I also had to deal with the mask issue among my preschool and school-age speech patients.
The biggest problem with masks for those in my profession is, of course, the fact that kids can’t see your mouth. How can you demonstrate, for example, the position the tongue must make to achieve the S or L-sounds? Or how we use teeth to make F, or TH? I had to cheat a time or two by briefly pulling down my mask at one Montessori school which required I wear one.
So imaginative speech pathologists have come up with the see-through mask. Ingenious!
Except that these masks don’t always perform as advertised, as one SLP found.
Did you notice a couple of problems with those masks? One, they still fit loosely and allowed the SLP’s breath to leak out. And, they fogged up! These things look creepy and unnatural, too.
And . . .they’re not cheap, either. One “face-shield mask hybrid” goes for almost $35 a pop for a single mask. But if you buy them in bulk you can get them for the low, low, price of $19.30 each for 25 or more. Tell me — what daycare or preschool will spring that kind of money for their staff?
Plus, they still fog up, according to the company. And they give this disclaimer, too:
“*BADGER SHIELD+ IS NOT A SEALED RESPIRATOR SYSTEM AND SHOULD NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF AN N95 OR OTHER RATED MASK”
Despite all the political brouhaha over masks in schools and daycares, the dirty little secret is this: They don’t work. Almost 40% of our school-age kids wear masks every day to school. Yet in a comparison between states that mandate masks and those that don’t, both groups have similar trends in Covid cases — they go up and down together. In fact, those that don’t demand masks have lower case rates.
The proportion of positive Covid pediatric tests from ages 0-17 are also similar between these states, despite seasonality. Plus, Covid pediatric hospitalizations in states that require masks average about 4.23 per 100,000; in states that don’t require them, it’s about 4.9 per 100,000. These numbers are almost identical. Then consider, too, how extremely small this rate is to begin with.
Yet the CDC, media fear mongers, and teachers’ unions (don’t get me started on them!) say that if our little ones don’t wear face coverings then everyone will be in peril from Covid. Even though studies show that Covid is rarely a threat to kids, who are unlikely to spread it to their teachers.
But many of those in authority are willing to risk children’s communication development in order to placate adults’ overwrought fears. The kids aren’t alright. And lots of grownups don’t give a damn.