Coming Out of Covid
Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Two years ago, I remember going into the quarantine thinking how crazy it was that we would be doing this for two weeks. I couldn’t even fathom shutting down our town, our country, our world for that long.
I naively started taking a photo for each day my toddler would be “in quarantine”, sharing with family with glib little captions. It stopped being fun after Day 30. I stopped doing it on Day 70, my son’s first birthday in quarantine.
Now it has been two years. Two years of quarantining, social distancing, outside gatherings, mask mandates, risk tolerance, vaccines, boosters, risk assessment, variants ... it has been so tough for everyone, especially parents, to navigate what is right for their family in a world where the situation changes constantly and the media and government have different priorities than our own.
So I want to take a second to talk a little bit about how the pandemic affected our kids' communication and development. And hopefully offer some reassurance and suggestions for how we can move forward.
My Pandemic Child
I am a parent myself, with two unvaccinated children under three. As you can imagine, this pandemic was not quite what I envisioned when we decided to start a family. When my son was 9 months old, the pandemic began. We spent a long time in near-isolation, seeing people virtually or outside (socially distanced). My husband and I watched my son grow from a baby to a toddler. And it hurt my heart to think about all the things he was missing.
My son was too young to wear masks, and it worried me to see all these masked faces. How would this impact his speech and language?
My son didn’t go anywhere except the playground where he stayed off on his own, interacting with nobody. How would this impact his play and communication skills?
My son saw us and occasionally his grandparents in person. Everyone else he saw over FaceTime, for about two seconds before he ran away from the screen. How would that impact his social skills and socio-emotional growth?
And then, along with everything else, my son missed all of his expressive language milestones. But I’m an SLP and I'm doing all the things for early language!?
I'd like to say I handled it calmly and professionally. I'm a speech pathologist, so I know there is a range of typical development. I know the techniques to help elicit language. I know the positive signs that my son was making progress: My son understood language well, he was happily engaging with me and my husband, he was a wonderful non-verbal communicator, he was slowly learning some signs and making word approximations.
But no, I was an anxious mess, frantically testing my own child every three months with an early language assessment from work. (My SLP friends can attest to this).
I was angry. I blamed the pandemic. I blamed myself. I didn't know what else I could do.
Fast forward a year or so. Vaccines came out. We made the decision to enroll my son in daycare a few days a week for socialization with peers and other adults. We started taking him to some indoor structured social groups and having some playdates with other vaccinated families. We gave him some time.
He is talking much more now. And, while still delayed, I'm much less anxious. These past two years have not been normal. My son may have been delayed regardless, but there is no doubt in my mind that the pandemic made it harder for him to learn language due to the lack of communication opportunities and communication partners.
Why did he have to learn to say a word when mama already knew everything he wanted in our tiny apartment? His nonverbal communication was working, why change it? And he didn't go to grocery stores or restaurants or other people's houses where he might have learned other words or had other people to try to talk to.
It's Not the Mask
Although mask mandates are coming down in many areas of the country, many parents are still concerned about the risk of COVID-19 for their unvaccinated children or for others in their household.
For those of you who are choosing to keep your child masked, I want to provide some reassurance.
Masks do not cause delays.
Let me say that again, louder for those in the back.
Masks do not cause delays.
The PANDEMIC caused delays. We made drastic changes to our children's lives including their exposure to other places and to other people. We have lived in a traumatic, anxiety-filled space for the past two years. This is what causes delays.
There are many other countries who use masking with young children during illnesses. There are also many studies that have been published since the pandemic began that show masking is not the causal element in speech and language delays.