pediatric speech therapy facts

Pediatric Speech Therapy Service Needs Have Expanded Post-Pandemic

Demand for Southwest Florida pediatric speech therapy services has long been higher than what providers could comfortably accommodate. That’s why so many clinics have ongoing waiting lists. But you’re not imagining it: Those waitlists have gotten longer than ever.

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) reports this is in part because many clinics are catching up on the backlog of waning referrals during the pandemic.

In a recent survey of pediatric speech-language pathologists and audiologists, ASHA found that there has been a sharp uptick in referrals the last 2 year – a time period marked by significant pandemic-related impacts for kids ages 1-5.

Pediatric speech therapy clinics are reporting seeing more:

  • Requests for evaluations.
  • Behavioral difficulties.
  • Social deficits.
  • Speech-language struggles.

The poll was conducted among more than 1,000 ASHA members nationally, the majority of whom are reporting backlogs – mainly from kids who weren’t referred to them during the pandemic. Concerns about the virus reduced access to all kinds of medical care and interventions, and that unfortunately includes speech therapy services.

Some clinics, like FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers, were ahead of the curve in providing online pediatric speech therapy services. That meant we could more seamlessly transition to a continuation of services for existing patients – even if they couldn’t be in the clinic with us.

But still, there were significant delays during that time in getting a physician’s referral for both audiology and speech-pathology evaluations. That meant delays in securing the diagnoses that open the door to early intervention therapy services.

Other pandemic-related factors exacerbated existing developmental delay issues. Specifically:

  • 36% of audiologists said they’re treating more kids who went for prolonged periods with persistent, untreated ear infections that could interfere with communication development compared to prior to the pandemic.
  • 34% of audiologists report seeing more kids with a delayed diagnosis of hearing loss. Hampered early intervention services impedes the progress a child can make long-term.
  • Limited opportunities for social interaction, play with peers, and formal pre-K and daycare with outside adults contributed to communication development issues.
  • 51% of pediatric speech therapy providers say there’s been an increase in screen time and technology use among young children – something that has proven harmful to early speech-language development.

None of this is to shame parents or make them fret over how they could have/should have done better. The fact is the pandemic created hardships, upheaval, and uncertainty for a great many of us – some more so than others. The question is: Where do we go from here?

The point we’re driving home is that because these speech therapy backlogs are bigger than ever right now, parents who suspect their child has a speech, language, hearing, swallowing, or communication delay should not wait to seek evaluation and services. Chances are, it’s going to be months for specialty appointments (audiologists, neurologists, speech therapists, etc.). If the issues seem to dissipate by the time your appointment date nears, then no worries. But if speech-language issues persists, it’s better to initiate intervention for it sooner than later.

The good news is that 67% of speech therapists and audiologists report growing awareness of the early warning signs of communication disorders over the past decade. That’s a huge step in the right direction in terms of securing the early intervention services necessary to ensure kids with speech and language delays close the skills gap and reach their greatest potential.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Poll Shows Increases in Hearing, Speech, and Language Referrals, More Communication Challenges in Young Children, April 2023, ASHA

More Blog Entries:

ASHA Communication Milestones From Birth to Age 5, Nov. 15, 2023, Fort Myers Speech Therapy Blog

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