(The Conversation) – Typically, about 1 in 6 children experience developmental delay. But children born during the pandemic, according to a 2022 study, are nearly twice as likely to have developmental delays in communication and social development as babies born before the pandemic.
The reason, according to some researchers, has to do with less interaction with other children, among other factors.
Communication delays can mean a child learns to speak later, speaks less, or uses gestures like pointing instead of speaking. Social developmental delays may be present when a child does not respond to their name when called, watch what adults are paying attention to in the environment, or play with other children or trusted adults.
It is difficult to say whether children who suffer from these delays can be caught up or whether they will need continued services or special education through primary school and beyond. The longer the delay, the more likely the child will need ongoing specialized services.
One way to be more certain is to talk to your child’s pediatrician to find out if your child is meeting certain developmental milestones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also recommends parents contact their state’s early intervention program and say, “I have concerns about the development of my child and I would like my child to be assessed to see if he or she is eligible for early intervention services.
In the meantime, parents and early childhood teachers can support the language development of children who may be experiencing delays by providing rich, responsive interactions and conversations.
As a researcher specializing in the language and literacy skills of young children with learning disabilities, I offer here five evidence-based strategies that parents and teachers of children with pandemic-related developmental delays can use to support their child’s growing language skills and later academic performance.
1. Get the kids talking
Language is how we share our experiences. However, children with developmental delays may not speak much. Adults can create opportunities to talk, which helps children develop their ability to communicate and interact with others.
One way to do this is to create situations where the child has to talk to get something they want. For example, at home, place a favorite toy or snack in a sealed clear bag or plastic container so the child can see the item but cannot get it themselves without asking for help . At preschool or daycare, during snack time or free play, offer the student two choices and ask him to say which one he wants. For children whose speech is difficult to understand, any noise or attempt to speak is a good sign. The important thing is that they are trying to speak, not that the words come out perfectly. If the child’s speech is unintelligible, ask him to point and speak at the same time to show his choice.
2. Develop children’s speech
Providing rich language is essential to support the language development of children with developmental delays.
One way to provide rich language is to respond to what the child says and then add details or adjectives. For example, if a young child sees a dog and exclaims, “Doggy! “, an adult could develop this speech by saying: “Yes! There is a big brown dog. The adult acknowledges what the child has said and provides more language for the child to hear and respond to while sharing the experience of seeing a dog.
3. Be a warm and attentive interlocutor
When adults provide warm and supportive interactions, children develop better language skills in preschool, better vocabulary and reading ability in first grade, and better math performance in third grade.
Being a supportive partner means following the child’s example and not always telling them what to do. For example, play with the toys that the child has chosen or simulate scenarios imagined by the child. During the conversation, talk directly to the child about a topic he has chosen and take turns talking. Don’t worry about correcting the child or guiding the interaction. It’s okay if you’ve talked about the dog across the street a thousand times. Every interaction strengthens language skills. Stay positive and engaged.
4. Share a book
Shared book reading is a technique where the adult actively involves the child in the storytelling experience. Children who frequently participate in shared book reading have a larger vocabulary, use more complex language, and have better reading comprehension in higher grades.
Start by asking open-ended questions such as “What do you think will happen next?” Talk to the child about their real-life experiences similar to the book, for example: “Do you remember when we went to the park? What did we do there?
Underline words and letters while reading aloud to help children develop print awareness. Speak interesting words from the story and define new words. Children often like to read the same book over and over again, so there will be plenty of opportunities to use these strategies during story time. Don’t worry about using them all at once.
5. Speak the words
Help children develop a better awareness of the connection between words and their sound. This is an important skill that supports reading and writing.
Clap or count the syllables of words, such as “cupcake” or “butterfly.” Say nursery rhymes and ask the child to say which words rhyme or find other words that rhyme. Talk about sounds you hear at the beginning or end of words, like the “t” sound in “tiger” or the “m” in “room.” Children slowly learn that spoken language is made up of words and sounds that can be represented by written letters. This knowledge is the gateway to learning to read and write.