Consequences of the pandemic?
More children have speech disorders
When children learn to speak, it is a complex process. Therefore, it is not always easy to find the causes of speech disorders. The number of disabled children is increasing. Various coronavirus measures are suspected of stunting children’s language development, but there are other reasons as well.
According to a study, the number of children and young people in Germany affected by language disorders has been increasing for years – also during the coronavirus crisis. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of disabled between the ages of 6 and 18 increased by around nine percent and between 15 and 18 by almost 21 percent. This follows from data from the commercial health insurance company KKH in Hanover.
In a ten-year comparison from 2011, the number of disabled people increased by a total of 58 percent – an increase of 59.4 percent was recorded for girls and 56.7 percent for boys. Speech and language disorders in children and adolescents include limited vocabulary, difficulty articulating sounds or forming sentences, or poor grammar. According to KKH’s own information, it is one of the largest national statutory health insurance companies with approx. 1.6 million insured persons.
According to the KKH, an average of 8.1 percent of children and adolescents were affected last year – compared to 5.2 percent ten years earlier. In the age group of 6 to 10 years, the share of children with speech disorders was 16.0 percent, in the age group of 11 to 14 years, 5.5 percent, and in the age group of 15 to 18 years, 2.4 percent.
Undiscovered pandemic cases
The coronavirus pandemic, with all the restrictions, according to the health insurance company, has made it difficult for many children to develop language skills. Home education and the lack of social contacts meant that many people lacked direct contact with teachers and especially with their peers. Because nurseries and schools were repeatedly closed, some speech disorders also remained undetected – there were more closed speech therapy practices.
“But language deficits can also be caused by organic causes such as hearing problems and genetic predisposition or excessive use of smartphones, computers and televisions,” explained Vijitha Sanjivkumar from the health insurer’s health competency team. “And sometimes a developmental language disorder cannot be assigned an identifiable cause.
Masks limit language acquisition
“Zdravotní pojišťovna also expects an increase in speech therapy services for young children. Due to hygiene regulations related to the coronavirus, such as protective masks or contact restrictions, “complex acquisition of the language of today’s two- and three-year-old children through communicative experiences with sound production, reading lip movements or facial expressions,” said Sanjivkumar.
However, according to the KKH, the data also show that language and speech cause more problems for older children and young people. The number of affected 11- to 14-year-olds increased by roughly 107 percent between 2011 and 2021, and by 151 percent among 15- to 18-year-olds. Speech disorders are usually diagnosed by a pediatrician. Sanjivkumar advised parents: “Read to your child, play games and develop stories or nursery rhymes together, talk and debate together. Pay attention to your child and look at them when communicating. It’s also good to let them finish.” “