COVID-19’s impact on developing children 

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FARMINGTON, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020, shutdowns began across Arkansas just days later.

Governor Asa Hutchinson ordered schools and non-essential businesses to close, while hospitals prepared for an influx of patients.

The immediate impact to students, employers and healthcare staff was obvious. Now, a year later, we’re seeing how it affected those who couldn’t speak for themselves.

In the small town of Farmington, home to about 7,400, is where Kassie Hutchings lives with her husband and their 2-and-a-half-year-old son Gray.

She said when families were encouraged to isolate to help control the spread of COVID-19, hers took that advice seriously.

“We really locked down and for the first probably 6 months we didn’t see anyone, including family. It was just Gray, my husband, and myself,” said Kassie.

Prior to the pandemic, Kassie said she and Gray spent their days out and about, being very social.

They’d go to story time at the local library and to public parks together, where Gray would play around others his age.

“He started babbling and you know, making the noises they were making and that avenue of learning just kind of went away for him,” said Kassie.

After having been separated from the outside world, Kassie noticed there was a change in her growing boy.

“All of a sudden he woke up one morning and he was silent. He wouldn’t babble, he wouldn’t say anything. No animal noises it was just gone,” Kassie continued, “we were really nervous and wanted to find out exactly what we needed to do as quickly as possible.”

While the Hutchings put the health of their son first, they worried it ultimately hindered his overall development.

To figure out how they could get Gray on the right track, he was evaluated by his pediatrician. He had to have his hearing checked to ensure that wasn’t the root of his speech delays, then he was assessed by Speech Pathologist Carrie Shepherd.

“When I first evaluated him, he was mostly pointing or grunting to get things that he wanted,” said Shepherd.

At his age, Shepherd said Gray should be able to combine two words together, follow simple directions and know at least 50 words.

These are milestones Gray was not hitting after he spent months interacting with only mom and dad.

“I feel like he was influenced significantly by the pandemic.”

Speech Pathologist Carrie Shepherd

As she explained, while the pandemic has only seemed like a year or so out of the lives of most adults, for Gray it was half his life.

Shepherd said it’s critical that kids hit developmental milestones when they’re expected to, as it can have a major impact on how they interact with others.

“As [kids] get older they should be able to express what they want and what they need, [if they can’t] often times that can lead to tantrums and just a lot of struggles with social anxiety because they’re not able to express themselves in a way that others understand,” said Shepherd.

Once a week, Shepherd and Gray get together to help him progress. She gets down to the toddler’s level at PlayWorks Pediatric Therapy and Play Gym in Farmington.

During the session the pair look like they’re just playing, but there’s a lot more that’s actually going on.

“That’s how children learn the best is through play,” Shepherd continued, ” when we were on the slide we were learning up and down and then we were also learning to communicate with me by looking at me and telling me he wanted to go up the slide.”

Kassie said, “it’s just a really natural way for him to kind of gain all these words and understand how they apply to his day-to-day life.”

This kind of early intervention is key, according to Dr. Craig Keever with Ozark Pediatrics in Rogers.

“The longer these delays are set in place, the brain as it matures, it will get set in patterns and they’re harder to break,” said Dr. Keever.

If caught early enough, Dr. Keever said kids, like Gray, will be able to catch-up.

“The resiliency of kids is that by and large most of them will be able to bounce back and recover milestones that were more difficult at first,” said Dr. Keever.

In just a month of working with Gray, Carrie is already seeing major improvements in him.

“In just a few short weeks we’ve seen him go from just using a few words and a lot of pointing, to purposefully telling me go, stop, down,” said Carrie.

His mom has noticed a change too.

“He’s just happier and more relaxed being able to communicate in a way that he couldn’t before,” said Kassie.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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