Working Through the Challenges of COVID-19 for Children with Speech and Language Needs

COVID-19 has brought on unique challenges to the delivery of therapeutic speech and language services. With the global health measures of wearing facial masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Speech-Language Pathologists have had to get creative in their delivery of services and find the balance of taking appropriate safety measures while helping children improve their ability to communicate.

A population that is impacted by the use of facial masks are children with autism. For individuals with autism, who have difficulties with social interactions, mask coverings can pose difficulties in the ability to read social situations and other’s feelings. While other children are able to read feelings and emotions of masked individuals by making inferences and using contextual cues, children with autism struggle to pick up on these social cues. The decrease of the visual cues that our facial expressions give can add extra difficulties in helping these children navigate social situations.

An additional population that has been impacted by the use of masks is those with speech sound disorders, who are working on increasing their ability to produce sounds within their speech. Children with speech sound disorders rely heavily on the visual cues of how our articulators (teeth, tongue, and lips) move.

Despite these difficulties, Speech-Language Pathologists have made modifications within therapy to meet the challenges that facial coverings can present. These modifications include:

  1. Utilizing masks with clear plastic panels

  2. Utilizing plexiglass as a barrier

  3. Increasing cues to include body language and gestures

  4. Incorporating videos and pictures as visual cues

The collaboration of professionals, families, and the community will be a key factor in making these modifications to help ensure the continued growth in these children’s speech and language development.

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