(LifeSiteNews) – Early language researchers have said that babies born during the COVID shutdowns of the past two years are saying fewer words than babies born before them.
Education Week spoke to several researchers on this topic who cited face masks as a potential reason for the delays.
LENA Foundation’s language research director, Jill Gilkerson, told the education publication that she conducted a study that measured “vocalizations” made by babies. The foundation’s mission is to help young children grow their “early talk” skills and prepare them for school.
“Gilkerson found on average, that while vocalizations fell for all infants born after the pandemic, the drop was greatest for the poorest 25 percent of children,” Education Week reported.
The study involved nearly 700 babies, some “pre-COVID babies” and others “COVID-era babies.”
“In other words, COVID babies ‘talk’ less,” the study reported. “That means they produce fewer coos, grunts, babbles, and other precursors to speech, suggesting they may be at greater risk of experiencing language delays.”
Gilkerson said some of the stress of the pandemic shutdowns are to blame, as children were home more and not with trained teachers. But face masks also caused learning difficulties.
“Moreover, in many cases early-education teachers used face masks, which were intended to limit the spread of COVID but also made it harder for babies to see teachers’ expressions and hear their responses,” EducationWeek reported, based on its interview with Gilkerson.
Another study highlighted by EducationWeek found that “children born during the pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic.”
The study cited reduced interaction outside of the home, but also suggested masks as another reason for developmental problems. “In addition, masks worn in public settings and in school or daycare settings may impact a range of early developing skills, such as attachment, facial processing, and socioemotional processing,” the study, conducted by Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University-affiliated researchers, reported in 2021.
The preprint paper relied on over 10 years of “cognitive assessments” on babies. The existing dataset allowed the researchers to compare babies born prior to the COVID shutdowns to those born during them.
“We began to notice anecdotally several months into the pandemic that kids seemed to be having a little greater challenge in doing their cognitive tests,” researcher Sean Deoni told Education Week. “Children just seemed to be taking a little bit longer to get through their assessments; they maybe weren’t as attentive or not performing as well as we normally had seen. And over time, those individual anecdotal statements became a chorus.”
The researchers’ flagging of masks as a problem in childhood development contradicts the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that kids older than two should be forced to wear face masks, as well as every state or school district that has mandated masks in schools for kids, teachers and staff.
Studies have shown that surgical masks provide little to no protection against COVID-19, and that mandates, while increasing mask use, do not lead to lower viral transmission. Research has also found that masks harm children, causing them to breathe dangerous levels of carbon dioxide and potentially damaging their cognitive development.