Local speech pathologist weighs in after CDC lowers developmental milestones for toddlers

Many parents now wondering if this new lowered threshold highlights the harmful impacts of the pandemic on children's learning.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – For the first time in nearly two decades, the CDC has lowered developmental milestones for toddlers.

Since 2004, the CDC has stated a 24-month-old should have a vocabulary of ~50 words. Now, that milestone of ~50 words has been pushed back to 30-months-old. Many parents now wondering if this new lowered threshold highlights or proves the harmful impacts of the pandemic on children’s learning.

“Yes, I think there’s going to be some delays, but I don’t think that these guidelines only speak to these {pandemic} delays,” Lea Themea says.

Themea has practiced speech language pathology for over 27 years in southern New England and says in part, she thinks these guidelines have been adjusted to better outline what parents should look for in their children.

Themea says while the pandemic has hindered young children’s ability to play and interact with others, that isn’t the only way children learn and improve on their language skills. Theoretically, during the pandemic- when most people were spending more time at home and most people were working from home- that’s also when children should have been spending more 1-on-1 time with family members.

Themea says as things return back to normal, she is seeing an influx of children getting help that she believes were already in at-risk categories (ex. socioeconomic status) prior to the pandemic.

“I think these guidelines look at how the language is used, because you could have a two-year-old that can label all their colors and count to 10, but they’re not saying them to actually communicate,” she says.

Specialists encourage concerned parents to limit TV watching for children to around 20-30 minutes a day. Themea says while TV teaches kids words, it does not initiate communication.

Additionally, including toddlers in everyday activities or tasks around the house that encourage back-and-forth communication is key to enhancing language skills. As always, specialists encourage you to reach out to your pediatrician with concerns.

Click here for more ways you can keep track of your child’s milestones.

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