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Impact of lockdown

'Pandemic babies' facing gaps in communication skills, Irish researchers find

The RCSI-led study has recommended that pandemic-born babies continue to be screened for developmental delays as they approach school-going age.

BABIES BORN IN the first three months of the pandemic have “gaps” in their communication skills compared to those born pre-pandemic, a study has found. 

The study, which was carried out by researchers based in Ireland from the RSCI, CHI Ireland and UCC, looked at the developmental milestones of 312 2-year-olds born early in the pandemic, and 605 infants born prior. 

Co-author Dr Susan Byrne from the RCSI Department of Paediatrics and FutureNeuro SFI Centre said that as a result of the “very different environment” babies born during the pandemic experienced, they were less likely to interact with people outside of their family group. 

She added that though we do not fully know why pandemic-born babies have slightly reduced communications skills, the study found that they had very small social circles during the pandemic, and that a quarter of the babies from this group who were assessed by the researchers did not meet another child their own age in the first year of their lives. 

This group of researchers first assessed the ‘pandemic babies’ involved in the project when they were at 12-months, and an initial study found that they reached fewer communication milestones in the first year of their lives. 

“The advent of coronavirus vaccines, mass lockdowns and mask-wearing meant that babies’ interactions with people outside the home were limited and access to visual and facial cues for language development potentially restricted,” the first study stated. 

It noted that it was possible that the developmental delays in these infants could possibly be “reversed” when normal life resumed. 

Researchers have now found that at age 2 there is a “small but measurable difference” between the communications skills of these infants and those born before pandemic, as just over twice the number of pandemic-born babies fell below standardised cut-offs for developmental concern in the area of communication. 

However, the study found no differences between pandemic-born and pre-pandemic babies in most aspects of development such as movement and problem-solving, and no differences in behavioural outcomes. 

Dr Byrne explained that the majority of ‘pandemic babies’ had “entirely normal communications scores” on their survey, but that there was a higher risk of developmental concerns amongst the group. 

Professor Johnathan Hourihan said that the study’s results demonstrate the need for continued “support and monitoring” for children born during lockdown, especially as they reach school-going age. 

“Our findings highlight the need to continue national developmental screening programmes for all children, and provide the appropriate resources for early intervention service,” he said. 

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