Speech pathologist weighs in on worker shortage, pandemic developmental delays in kids

Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 4:50 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Parents, if you’re worried the pandemic may have slowed down your child’s development, you’re not alone.

A new study from Brown University connects many of the emergency changes we‘ve made in the last two years, to a decline in cognitive growth.

And now, a strain on qualified speech-language pathologists isn’t helping.

One Omaha parent named Rachel, says she noticed a change when her son Ellis turned two.

“He wasn’t really putting the two words together. He would say one word repeatedly, and it was just kind of a concern for us,’ she said.

Early on in the pandemic, Rachel, like many concerned parents pulled Ellis out of daycare to keep him by her side; forfeiting much of the social interaction that Brown University says is key for motor skills and language.

Things were fairly new, virus information was constantly changing and she wanted to keep her family safe. Rachel kept her son engaged as best she could but saw he needed more.

“I’m a parent and I do my best, but it’s just not the same as somebody that’s skilled,” said Rachel.

Turns out, the ‘skilled somebody’ her son needed, was speech-language pathologist, Melissa Bradley-Potter.

Bradley-Potter specializes in teaching parents how to communicate with their kids in order to pinpoint behavior that may require more help.

”Things like limited word utterances or perhaps they’re talking a lot, but they’re just babbling. Also aggressive behaviors or tantrums,” she listed.

Bradley-Potter says it can be tricky for parents to recognize signs their little one needs developmental help because those are also examples of regular early childhood behavior.

Thus, she always recommends calling a doctor or other trained professional for a second opinion.

Right now though, professionals in speech pathology aren’t as easy to come.

Bradley-Potter says the baby boomer generation of pathologists are retiring, and the pandemic further exacerbated their shortage.

She also shared that many speech therapists with children decided to stay home and others didn’t have a choice when child care also became a hurdle.

But the shortage doesn’t end there.

The career requires a Master’s degree and Potter says the output of graduates, also doesn’t mirror the demand.

In the Brown University study, a roughly 23% drop in scores measuring kids’ intelligence was noted since the start of the pandemic along with similar dips in kids‘ ability to communicate verbally or through facial expressions.

Rachel says she doesn’t take for granted the permanent skills she gained from Melissa’s hands-on help.

“She will print things off for me. She gives us at-home work that’s incredibly helpful.”

Rachel says she can see a noticeable improvement in Ellis’ development and hopes all parents have access to this type of assistance when concerns arise.

The reality is though, many private speech pathologists are booked, which is why Bradley-Potter recommends parents put their tax dollars to use.

From birth to age three, most families are eligible to have free in-home assessments done through their local school district.

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