Masked Up - The affect of Covid on Communciation
Coming into the 3rd year of an ever-changing pandemic makes us ask the question, what are masks really doing to our speech development?
Masks, as we all know, are the best protection for our community and health services to ensure that we are safe from spreading COVID-19. In most places mask rules are relaxed (social distancing remains a permanent recommendation) and we are lucky to not have as widespread mask mandates as other cities and countries. However, masks do restrict our communication in some respects taht we need to be aware of for both young children and people who have difficulties with their communication functions.
Masks alter communication in two ways, they change how a speaker sounds by dampening their voice, and they block the view of the speaker's lips. These can impact a listener's ability to understand the speaker and therefore be able to participate in conversations or follow given directions. These changes mostly affect people who have hearing loss or who struggle to understand others due to already existing speech and language difficulties.
So, does mask wearing affect a child's speech development?
Most children begin to talk during their first two years of life. When they learn to talk, they do this by watching the movement of other people's mouths to help them learn how to produce sounds. Children can also learn to communicate in non-speaking ways like gestures, listening for different tones in people's voices, and looking at the eyes of the speaker.
Unless a child is continuously surrounded by mask-wearing adults and not given any opportunity to leanr through unmasked adults, the effect of mask wearing will not have a negative impact on thier development.
Mask-wearing appears to have more effect on adults who already have speech and language difficulties and for children who present with significant speech and language development delays.
How can we support those impacted by mask-wearing?
By using visuals, slowing down how fast we talk, and emphasising keywords in our sentences, we can support those who already need help understanding.
Exemptions are available in some therapy settings, with safe social distancing in place, and the use of transparent masks will continue to support our vulnerable community so that their communication is not worsened during this pandemic.