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Children fail to meet learning milestones after Covid lockdowns: expert


A New Jersey speech therapist has reported an enormous wave of infants and toddlers "unable to communicate" due to Covid pandemic restrictions, such as masking, school closures, and social distancing.


According to the Daily Mail, speech pathologist Nancy Polow describes this concerning phenomenon as part of a trend observed in children born during or shortly before the pandemic, who are now "falling behind" on key milestones due to an abnormal lack of social interaction.


Harshening the negative effects of the children's social isolation were the parents' inability to get adequate help, as they were often met with lockdown-related roadblocks themselves, such as mask and vaccine mandates and the challenges of virtual doctor's appointments for toddlers, Polow said.


Now that the majority of Covid restrictions have lessened, Polow says parents are scrambling to reverse the damage in their children, signing up for expensive speech therapy sessions that may cost as much as $1,000 per month.


"We call these children Covid babies," Polow, who has over 45 years of experience under her belt, told NJ.com in a Friday interview.


"I have never seen such an influx of infants and toddlers unable to communicate. There's not anything else wrong," she said of the kids who are pouring into her speech center in Millburn, New Jersey, "other than they lost out on the socialization."


According to Polow, speech is only one of several areas in which children are lagging due to lockdowns, with several other studies showing that these "Covid babies" are also seeing developmental delays in reaching other milestones, such as crawling and walking. Delays in verbal development, however, are often the first sign of broader issues, the expert warned.


Now Polow says she and her staff are working with countless families to get their children back on track.


"If we get them young enough, then they become age appropriate," Polow said in her interview. "Then they reach their milestones."


However, many children may have slipped through the cracks and will develop deeper developmental issues, such as autism, she warned.


Polow isn't alone in her belief that the lockdowns have caused some children to be underdeveloped. In fact, a growing body of academic research also supports the theory that children born over the past three years possess weaker communication skills, with many remaining non-verbal well past their first birthday, and some past their second.


Janice Prontnicki, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, was also interviewed by NJ.com, saying that this phenomenon is also in part due to babies spending less time around family and child care providers, who might have noticed a delay sooner.


"We were missing kids that should have been picked up sooner," Prontnicki said.


Unfortunately, the treatment to reverse these dastardly effects isn't easily accessible for everyone, especially low-income families. "Some of them don’t have access to a computer or a tablet or a smartphone to be able to access therapy virtually," said Ediza Lahoz Valentino, an NJ-based social worker at the Jane H. Booker Family Health Center to the local outlet. "That in itself was challenging."


Further evidence of slower development in young children was revealed by Emily Levitt, the vice president of Sylvan Learning, one of America's largest tutoring networks, who told the outlet that they had been recently inundated with requests for help from parents of toddlers.


Some experts also believe that masking has had a negative effect on children's social skills, with Dr. Ashley Ruba, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Child Emotion Lab, saying to CNN: "There are sensitive periods in early childhood development in which language development and emotional development are really rapidly developing for the first few years of life."


Being able to use others' verbal or facial cues to figure out how someone is feeling or pick up on safe or dangerous aspects of environments and people is a critical task for young kids, she added. Studies have shown that children's mental health was also impacted during the pandemic, with a report from the United Nations finding that two years of restrictions have led to "significant mental health consequences" for young people.


The study, conducted in June, estimated that over one billion people worldwide are currently living with a mental health disorder, a 25 percent increase from pre-COVID times.

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