Child-development researchers have found the pandemic is having a devastating impact on kids.
Veteran journalist Rubina Madan Fillion, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, reports, “We’ve heard a lot about how the pandemic has contributed to learning loss among school-age children.”
“It’s also had an outsized effect on younger kids (‘pandemic babies’) in terms of developing communication and motor skills,” she writes.
Researchers discovered this “development dip” by testing the brain performance of more than 600 children aged 3 months to 3 years.
They found that babies born during the pandemic score lower on tests of early learning.
Babies born during the pandemic are scoring lower in language, puzzle-solving and motor skills.
Researchers explain this negatively impacts such things as simple as standing and walking.
Medical biophysicist Sean Deoni at the Ivy League school of Brown University also found similar results at the college’s Advanced Baby Imaging Lab.
Deoni said infants’ neurodevelopmental scores were much worse for those born during the pandemic compared to previous years.
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“Everyone wants to document how this is impacting child development, and parent–child relationships and peer relationships,” says James Griffin, chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland. “Everyone has concerns.”
Some of the teams looking into these issues around the world are starting to publish their findings. New studies have begun. Firm answers are hard to come by, not least because many child-development research laboratories shut down during the pandemic.
Some babies born during the past two years might be experiencing developmental delays, whereas others might have thrived, if carers were at home for extended periods and there were more opportunities for siblings to interact. As with many aspects of health during the pandemic, social and economic disparities have a clear role in who is affected the most. Early data suggest that the use of masks has not negatively affected children’s emotional development. But prenatal stress might contribute to some changes in brain connectivity. The picture is evolving and many studies have not yet been peer reviewed.
Some researchers propose that many of the children falling behind in development will be able to catch up without lasting effects. “I do not expect that we’re going to find that there’s a generation that has been injured by this pandemic,” says Moriah Thomason, a child and adolescent psychologist at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.