Can Masks Delay Speech & Development in Children?

by Team Stamurai

Can masks delay speech and language development in children? Well, before we dive deep into this topic, let us first understand the basics.

Research suggests that babies as young as 8-months begin lip-reading. They watch individuals talk and begin to babble to mimic speech. Lip-reading gives the babies access to visual cues of speech. Around this time, babies also begin to realize which faces go with which voices. Babies born in a bilingual or multilingual household lip-read more frequently than babies in monolingual families.

So, could absence of opportunities for lip-reading affect speech & language development in children? Read on to find out.

Why Is Lip-Reading Necessary For Children?

Current research shows that visible articulations support the development of communication skills in children. Babies who lip-read more frequently reach the speech-language development landmarks at a young age!

Interestingly, once a child masters lip-reading during infancy, it becomes the default mechanism of processing spoken language when comprehension is difficult. For example, in a loud and noisy environment, to understand the speaker, we often resort to reading their lips to understand what they are saying.

In another study, researchers found that adults who speak multiple languages lip-read more often while conversing in their second language. Adults often resort to lip-reading when they face speech-in-noise, foreign language speech, or accented speech.

Can Masks Delay Speech & Development in Children

Lip-reading is a necessary skill that all individuals acquire in their early childhood. It aids and assists communication in adults.

How Does the Absence of Visual Cues Affect Language Development?

According to recent research, visually impaired children develop speech and language at the same rate as sighted children.

While they begin by using a significantly large number of frozen phrases, they slowly learn to use them in the correct context during two-way communication.

Speech and language development in children depends on multiple factors. One of these factors is visual cues or lip-reading. However, multiple studies conducted on the language acquisition of visually impaired children prove that speech and language can develop normally even when the child is unable to see facial expressions and lip movements.

Currently, there is a dearth of peer-reviewed material to support the claim that using masks around children may cause speech and language delay.

Masks and Language Development in Children: What Can You Do To Boost Communication Skills?

Parents and other caregivers do not have to wear masks indoors unless they are symptomatic or in quarantine. It is only during outdoor visits or in daycare that they have to be around masked adults. At home, they can play and interact with, and watch adults speak without their masks on.

Since we should still follow standard guidelines issued by public health authorities about wearing masks while stepping out, we can consider the tips on mask-use provided by ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association).

According to ASHA, here’s what you can do to aid communication while you are outside, wearing a mask –

  1. You can use masks with a clear panel over the mouth. These are available online as well as at various stores.
  2. You may consider using face shields instead of masks whenever and wherever appropriate.
  3. Attract the attention of the listener/communicator before you begin speaking.
  4. Use your hands to aid communication.
  5. While talking to a child, make sure you speak clearly, so the words are not distorted or garbled.
  6. Always face the child while talking.

Stepping outside without a mask is not yet an option. You have to improvise and adapt to make communication easier with children.

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