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Recent poll finds increased language disorder diagnoses in children

Three children sitting next to each other on grass.jpg
Charlein Gracia

A recent American Speech-Language-Hearing Association poll of audiologists and speech pathologists showed an increase in referrals for children under the age of 5 over the past two years. A majority of referrals were cases of delayed language development and difficulty with social communication.

Speech-language pathologists are reporting nearly 80% more children diagnosed with language disorders — and that same pattern can be seen in diagnoses of social communication difficulties.

Audiologist and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association president elect Tena McNamara explained how the pandemic likely has played a role in this rise of diagnoses.

“The trends from this survey seemed to kind of coincide with the trends of some other national surveys about school aged kids — the rise in social and behavioral issues, delays in speech and language. And, possibly, what we're thinking is that is probably maybe related to pandemic isolation. There was a lot less interaction going on then,” said McNamara.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to many young children not attending preschool or formal daycare, especially during 2020. This led to delays in referrals and appointments, and potentially contributed to complications of speech and language development in young children.

While it is possible other factors, such as increased technology use, could be contributing to the changes, it is likely that prolonged isolation has contributed, as a delay in diagnosis subsequently delays treatment.

“Our advice to parents is trust your gut. If you feel that your child has some communication or hearing difficulties, get them tested. It doesn't hurt to have them tested,” McNamara said.

For more information on communication milestones and signs keep an eye out for visit

Find a link to the pollhere.

Erin Lewis is a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a PhD Candidate in the biology department at Utah State University. She is passionate about fostering curiosity and communicating science to the public. At USU she studies how anthropogenic disturbances are impacting wildlife, particularly the effects of tourism-induced dietary shifts in endangered Bahamian Rock Iguana populations. In her free time she enjoys reading, painting and getting outside with her dog, Hazel.