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The Impact Of Covid On Speech & Language Difficulties In The Classroom

08th, Sep 2022

Being able to understand and communicate with others is an essential skill for all of us. Some children, however, struggle to both understand and use a language which can have a massive effect on how they learn, make friends and cope with school.

Did you know… 10% of children - that’s about 3 in every classroom, have a language disorder that they won’t grow out of.

Especially with the impact of Covid introducing more instructions and rules to social distance, or with the inconsistency of being in and out of the classroom on a regular basis, this can all become very overwhelming for a child.   

We spoke to Joanna Cushley, Paediatric Speech & Language Therapist at Kingsbridge Belfast on this subject who helps us understand what can be done to help.

How has covid impacted children with speech and language difficulties in the classroom and at home? 

The Covid pandemic has had a significant impact on children with Speech and Language Difficulties. The initial stopping of face-to-face services and the closure of schools in particular, caused a sense of panic and uncertainty amongst families and healthcare professionals alike.

Those receiving regular input were forced to pause their therapy and children were quickly transitioned into an unfamiliar, virtual world of home schooling and online treatments. This pause in therapy and halt of services ultimately lost valuable time for some families who were benefitting from regular treatment, as well as causing waiting lists to soar while services scrambled to come up with a new virtual pathway for patients.

In December 2020, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) conducted a study which looked at the impact of covid on children with Speech and Language difficulties. This study noted a significant reduction in the number of referrals for early intervention (0-3 years), an overall decrease in speech, language and communication skills and an increase in challenging behaviours in children.

Ofsted, which is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills reported that the learning and development of children was significantly impacted during the pandemic, with children now requiring more support socially, to make friends and to start conversations during play. The lack of access to therapy and education impacted not only on children’s social development, but also on their mental and physical health and their home life.

"As a result of this, children who did not get their Speech and language difficulties identified early, have potentially missed some crucial and valuable time in supporting their language development."

Children who had built up a rapport with their teacher and their Speech and Language Therapist, may potentially have lost this relationship after a period of absence, which could take time to rebuild. Speech and Language Therapy is an ongoing journey for many children, being incorporated into all aspects of their everyday life. This journey was halted for many children due to the pandemic, putting additional pressure on parents to suddenly take on additional roles in supporting and teaching their children.

Screen time increased for many children as families went into ‘survival mode’ and children no longer benefitted from peer interactions with the restrictions on mixing and closure of venues, a crucial element of language and social development. This social impact would mean that children may struggle in the playground, in group work or be reluctant to participate in class activities. Many children with speech and language difficulties thrive on routine and to suddenly have this structure removed indefinitely, could cause major setback for them, leading to anxiety and unsettled behaviour. All of these in turn contribute to the rise of stammering cases.

Overall, children will have had different experiences over the pandemic, but the research and evidence state that it has been a difficult time for children to access the support that they need, which comes with consequences. Hopefully now, moving forward, services are resuming, and the impact of the pandemic can be addressed for the children who need it.

What teaching and learning strategies should we be using in the classroom and at home to help?

General strategies to be using include:

  • Always having your child’s attention when you are talking to them. Call their name to ensure that they are listening and always check they have understood what you have asked them to do.
  • Simplify your own language by shortening your sentences and emphasising the key words.
  • Don’t ask your child too many questions and give them time to process and respond to what you have said. It is tempting to answer for them if they haven’t responded quickly!
  • Always provide opportunities for communication around the home.
  • Model language by talking about what you are doing as you go about your daily routines.
  • Model the correct production of words when they make an error, rather than correcting them.(Child says: “tat”, Adult says “yes, it’s a CAT”.)
  • Use everyday activities to support and develop language such as getting dressed, setting the table.
  • Build on your child’s language skills, if they say one word, say it back to them and add to it.(Child says: “cat”, Adult says: “yes, Big cat!”)

In the classroom:

  • Use a visual timetable to support the daily routine and to show the child what is happening throughout the day.
  • Introduce new vocabulary before the topic and label items around the classroom.
  • Demonstrate activities and cue children by getting them to look at what you are showing them, saying their name and ensuring they are listening.
  • Provide choices throughout the day and allow the child to make their own choices. Giving two choices at a time models the language they need to request something. (“would you like a jigsaw or paint?”)
  • Use circle time as an opportunity to develop listening skills, turn-taking and social skills.
  • Use a home school diary to facilitate a conversation about events at home or in school.
  • Modify the classroom environment by minimising distractions, arranging the table plans carefully, labeling items around the room and using visuals.

If a parent has any concerns, what would you suggest is a good starting point to help?

All children develop at slightly different paces, so a good place to start is always with a professional Speech and Language Therapist where you can receive a specialist assessment to discuss your concerns and to gather a baseline of your child’s Speech, Language and Communication skills.

A Speech and Language Therapist is skilled in assessing, diagnosing and overall management of Speech, Language and Communication difficulties. Once you have received an assessment, an intervention plan can be devised that suits your needs, whether it be parent coaching, advice, onward referral, or direct therapy approaches.

Speech and Language Therapy is available now at Kingsbridge Private Hospital and I would be only too happy to meet you and to help your little one on their journey.

To book an appointment with Joanne Cushley, please text BOOK NOW to 66777 or email info@kingsbridgeprivatehospital.com

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