COVID-19 shutdowns lead to regression of child social skills


INDIANAPOLIS — At least 55 million students in the U.S. were affected by school closures related to the coronavirus pandemic.

And now, childhood development specialists say they’re starting to see the effects all that time out of school is producing.

According to specialists, many young kids have taken a step back when it comes to socialization skills.

At places like Gymboree in Carmel, workers say they’re noticing kids have become more hesitant to interact with others. They’re talking less and showing more signs of anxiety.

A likely result of being stuck at home and separated from other children.

 “A lot of this is a reflection of their own feelings. They don’t know how to express the confusion of not being able to see my friends. Of why can’t we be face to face with people? Why do we have to do zoom calls? So those behaviors and regressions stem a lot from that. They just don’t know how to process it all,” Manager Eileen Papesh-Clark said.

While all children are susceptible to regressing during this time off, the COVID-19 shutdowns have had an even deeper effect on children with special needs.

At Hopebridge Autism Therapy Center, therapist say they’ve seen a regression in social skills among children as well. Some have even lost speech skills, which required many hours of constant in-person therapy sessions to build in the first place.

They’re also seeing increased examples of aggression towards family members, self-aggression, and incidents of property damage.

“We saw a pretty dramatic increase in the behaviors they were experiencing in home that they either hadn’t experienced or exhibited in a long time or they had never exhibited in a home environment,” Melissa Chevalier, the director of ABA for Hopebridge said.

Many parents are now concerned with their kid’s ability to regain the progress that was made. Especially if there’s a second wave of infections that could disrupt things once again.

Chevalier says while frustrating, there is hope to regain any progress lost.

“As we were able to reopen our doors and bring the kids back into the therapy setting, we have seen so much progress, again. It’s really exciting,” she said.

Chevalier says thus far, Hopebridge has used techniques such as telehealth conferences and virtual parent training sessions to help them adapt to stay at home situations. Now that doors have reopened, they’re also seeing upticks in time spent during in-person therapy sessions.

“We’ve seen an increase in the amount of families that have requested additional meetings, requested more time with their therapists, and that’s only going to make more progress for the kids,” said Hopebridge.

Hopebridge is also working to connect families with other resources that can help.

Regardless the situation or special circumstances, experts say with time, kids will be able to regain skills that were lost or regressed.

“I want parents to understand that this is totally normal, and that most of the time it’s a short little blip that’s not going to last forever. These behaviors these regressions are not going to last forever.” Eileen Papesh-Clark said.

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