Last month, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) issued new developmental language standards for American children. The updated guidance states that a 2-and-a-half-year-old child is now expected to say only 50 words.
As an autism specialist and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association-certified speech-language pathologist, I am appalled the CDC would quietly lower long-held pediatric language expectations by normalizing significant language delays as “the new normal.”
I have worked in hospitals, schools and clinics, and have been the lead director in developing autism programs and centers in multiple states.
I am considered an expert in pediatric development of speech, language, communication, oral motor function and swallowing, and an expert in providing appropriate treatment approaches and protocols when such functions are “abnormal.”
For 25 years, I have been an advocate for early identification and treatment because research shows the earlier a child is identified, the better their treatment outcomes will be.
Now the CDC wants to normalize delayed speech and language skills in American children, depriving them of early identification and treatment.
This will inevitably adversely impact our children’s future successes in school, in relationships, in their communication and in their self-esteem, leaving them to possibly face years more of speech and language therapy and educational support.
What is “normal?”
Children over age 2 are expected to have huge verbal vocabularies. They should have a word for almost everything in their environment.
Two-and-a-half-year-olds are expected to be using multiple 2+word to 3+word phrases and even merging into full sentences.
If the CDC is seeing a significant decrease in pediatric language acquisition, agency officials need to be asking why — instead of simply changing the standard expectations.
Yet this isn’t new for the CDC. The CDC has been changing IQ standards and student testing outcomes for years. American children are getting dumber and dumber, with more learning disabilities, and more health issues (54% of American children suffer from a chronic disease … but I will save that for another article.)
The CDC needs to just stop with this nonsense of making abnormal = normal, and start looking into what is negatively affecting our children’s development.
Let’s start by asking: Why the sudden change in speech and language in 2021-2022?
We can only assume the national implementation of mask mandates for the past two years has much to do with our current situation.
I have been screaming from the rooftops for the last two years that masking is inappropriate and harmful.
The American Speech and Hearing Association wrote letters to the CDC expressing concern about the potential negative impact of masks on speech and language, but unfortunately, the CDC didn’t waiver.
Apparently, the CDC felt such harms didn’t outweigh the disinformation agenda that masks stop the spread of SARS-COV-2. (There are decades of scientific research demonstrating masks don’t stop the spread of aerosolized viral particles.)
Here is how mask-wearing affects speech and language development:
Seeing and hearing: Children learn through watching and hearing. Masking hinders both of these learning modalities. Children need to see the mouths of their parents, teachers and peers.
Furthermore, masked peers and teachers impede aural learning. Speech and language development is significantly impacted when a child cannot see or hear all of the speech sounds being muffled by mask wearers. The developmental speech and language window is vital in developing appropriate communication skills and can impact a child’s education for years.
Mouth breathing: Children under 5 are transitioning from a suckling swallowing pattern to an adult swallow. This swallowing transition is important and sets up a child to have functional and appropriate speech and swallowing and even influences the oral structures and growth of the jaw and mouth.
A mask may impede this transition in multiple ways. Masks reduce oxygen intake and often cause the wearer to breathe from the mouth instead of the nose in order to take in as much oxygen as possible. Mouth breathing in pediatric oral development is very problematic, and often speech-language pathologists spend years working with patients attempting to remedy this problem.
Mouth breathing leads to a low tongue resting position, which is the precursor to many speech, articulation and swallowing disorders. Mouth breathing can even cause jaw malformations and long-term oral and swallowing dysfunction that only surgical reconstruction can rectify.
Furthermore, children with special needs, as those with speech and swallowing disorders and dysfunction, are severely impeded with mask mandates and this could set them back for a lifetime of therapy and more aggressive and invasive therapies in their future.
Compliance: Developing toddlers and children typically do not have the self-awareness or discipline to safely don and doff a mask, nor keep from cross-contaminating the mask by touching surfaces and not touching their mask.
If the reason to wear a mask is to prevent cross-contamination of COVID-19, I believe the mere placement of a mask on a child will increase the likelihood of viral transmission. A mask is simply a prompt to have the child touch his or her face more frequently.
Hygiene: Young children are still developing proper oral resting postures and swallowing and therefore often drool. They also do not often blow their noses and their phlegm comes forward out of their nares (nostrils or nasal passages). These bodily fluids would quickly contaminate a mask.
Keeping a child in a moist, warm, contaminated mask is unhygienic and places the child at greater risk of bacterial and fungal infections, some of which can be contagious to others, such as impetigo, which can cause significant health risks.
Special Education and Disabilities: The harms on our special needs populations have been even more remarkable, setting these children up for longer recovery and treatments and potentially a lifetime loss of better outcomes.
On top of the harms mentioned above, requiring a child with sensory processing disorder or neurological deficits to wear a mask has created behavioral and emotional problems in many children and increased the burden on families and the child’s educational program.
Still to this day, children and families of special needs who are unable to tolerate a mask have been deprived of access to medical care and therapies, as well as travel in planes, trains, buses, subways or taxis.
The CDC’s mask mandates have severely affected an entire generation of American children and we are just now beginning to see the long-term consequences. Kids who were born in the era of COVID-19, have no idea what a world without masks is — we should expect to see even greater speech and language deficits in these children in the coming months and years.
Our kids need to see and hear their communication partners within vital developmental timeframes. They need to breathe freely and live without fear of germs or killing grandma.
Mask mandates on our population are inappropriate and unethical. Shame on the CDC for implementing such unscientific measures and then quietly changing pediatric language standards to cover the harms they have caused.
What else will the CDC soon be redefining as “normal”?
If your child is not using at least 50 words by 24 months, or cannot be understood by 3 years old, please consult a speech-language pathologist.
And please … take the mask off your child and their communication partners.