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Irish children’s social skills stunted following Covid lockdown

Disabled children across Ireland have seen their social skills “regress” considerable since the Covid lockdown, Family Carers Ireland has told Gript in an exclusive interview.

Earlier this year reports claimed that children in the UK were coming into primary school unable to communicate in basic ways, with stunted social skills due to the lack of socialisation during the Covid lockdown.

Gript asked Catherine Cox, spokesperson for Family Carers Ireland, if Ireland had seen similar situations.

“It has,” she replied.

“Many parents will tell us, particularly regarding children of disabilities, that they have actually regressed over the last three years.

“So children that might have been toilet trained, for example, or their speech may have come on, have actually gone backwards. Because they haven’t been getting those vital supports.”

Cox went on to outline the effect that the lockdown had on children’s opportunities for socialisation.

“Day services were closed down. Schools were closed for a certain time. And particularly for children with disabilities, they lost everything.

“Their family carers lost their respite and their chance to have a break. So Covid has been difficult for everyone, but I do think for family carers it has been particularly difficult.”

Asked about waiting lists for “vital therapies” like physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, Cox added that there are people in Ireland waiting “3 years” for access to such services, and said that the lockdown has lengthened the wait dramatically.

“Denying a child those therapies at a young age means that you are denying them the chance to grow to their full-potential,” she said.

“…it’s like the perfect storm, and families and people with disabilities are suffering the most from that.”

Many of these claims seem to mirror the findings of the UK government department OFSTED – the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

According to an OFSTED report earlier this year, babies and young children are experiencing “particularly worrying” developmental issues due to years of masking.

The report, which gathered data from 70 childcare providers in England, described how nurseries have been raising concerns over babies who have “limited vocabularies” and which are struggling to understand ordinary facial expressions.

“Some babies have struggled to respond to basic facial expressions, which may be due to reduced contact and interaction with others during the pandemic,” said the report.

“Children have missed out on hearing stories, singing and having conversations. One provider commented that children appear to have spent more time on screens and have started to speak in accents and voices that resemble the material they have watched.”

Additionally, the briefing added that masking of adults was believed to have had a negative impact on the children’s development.

“Children turning two years old will have been surrounded by adults wearing masks for their whole lives and have therefore been unable to see lip movements or mouth shapes as regularly,” the Ofsted briefing said.

“Some providers have reported that delays to children’s speech and language development have led to them not socialising with other children as readily as they would have expected previously.”

Amanda Spielman, OFSTED’s chief inspector, spoke to the BBC about issues young children are facing in the aftermath of the pandemic, including a disproportionate struggle with toilet-training.

“We are seeing difficulties with social interaction and social confidence,” she said.

“Children just behind where you would normally expect them to be. And also in physical development – crawling, walking and perhaps related to that also greater obesity.”

Childcare providers reported that babies were “particularly anxious and not used to seeing different faces” when dropped off at daycare by parents.

“Children were lacking confidence and were shy in childcare settings, especially when taking part in group activities,” the document read.

“Even older children who would have usually settled were still upset when dropped off.”

 

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