Concerns raised that COVID-19 delayed child development, social skills

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — All month, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at how two years of a pandemic impacted everything from school grades to postpartum mental health of new mothers. Now, we’re looking into the developmental challenges facing the ‘COVID Generation’ of young kids.

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For many kids over the course of COVID, a trip to the park was considered a major outing.

“In the beginning, it was a little nerve-wracking. Especially coming to parks with germs, but we kept hand sanitizer on us, and kept distance,” mom Nicole Roy said.

For some, it was one of the only times they were exposed to other children outside of their homes.

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“It was really tough for us, we tried hard to get them to go out and do activities, but they were really scared because of the pandemic, so it was a hard time for us,” dad Matthew Davila said.

Now, with two years’ worth of data to explore, some researchers are expressing concern that the isolation induced by the pandemic could be putting our youngest kids behind in social development or other motor skills.

“We’re starting to see that there are some gaps, that can only be resolved if we get them back and playing,” Judith Levin said. Levin is a senior lecturer in child development at the University of Central Florida, and the co-founder of Social Bridges. Social Bridges helps small groups of children with the development of social skills.

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“We’ve seen pretty large gaps actually, and not just with our kids in Social Bridges,” Levin said. “The gaps have been, first and foremost, the language piece of it.”

That could be due to the prevalence of masks over the last two years, muffling articulation, which young learners rely on to develop language skills. That’s not all; researchers at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital found infants born during the pandemic scored lower on tests of gross motor, fine motor, and communication skills, compared with those born before.

“They’re missing that back and forth, even that pulling of the toy if they’re young, but that back and forth, that you get only with peers, and that’s part of their peer culture,” Levin said.

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Similar research from Brown University’s Advanced Baby Imaging Lab found infant neurodevelopmental scores dropped significantly on tests like puzzle solving, standing, and walking, for kids between 3 months and 3 years.

Researchers aren’t alarmed by the results, due to the availability of early interventions. Resources are available on these websites:

Childcare.gov

Childcare state resources

Florida Early Learning

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.