Four signs of delayed development post-pandemic, and when to call a psychologist

Worried your child’s development may have been impacted by the pandemic? Here are four signs of delayed development, and when you should call a psychologist.

Nobody wants to consider that their child might have any kind of social or emotional challenge or learning delay. And while SEN networks and mental health campaigners have done their best to limit stigma around this, its sadly a very real issue. So what does “delay” look like and at what point should you worry?

Why you shouldn’t worry about a delay in your child’s development

Well let’s kick off with the positives – delay does not necessarily mean that your child will stay on that trajectory. Delay can mean just that- a delayed start. It’s incredibly common for parents to worry about a child who speaks later than peers, or reads later or appears to struggle with numbers.

So firstly stop worrying; what you may consider a delay might actually be completely normal. With any concerns involving learning capability, in the first instance speak to your child’s teacher, if concern is highlighted, then consult the SEN department.

In the case of speech, a speech pathologist will be able to quickly asses what is and isn’t cause for concern. To put some minds at ease, a dear colleague of mine who is a speech pathologist once told me that he doesn’t start considering diagnosing speech delay before the age of three, contrary to what a lot of parents might imagine.

Four signs of delayed development post-pandemic

But let’s get back to the subject of delay post-pandemic. Firstly as we are probably all bored of hearing by now the global pandemic has been unprecedented and therefore the psychology community are still gathering its thoughts around what this means for child development and mental health generally but here are four key essentials to look out for

1) Speech delay

There have been a number of scary headlines around the use of masks causing a delay in children due to the lack of mouth “mirroring”, and whilst this may be the case for some  as I have mentioned above, what might look like speech delay to a parent may not look like one to a professional.

As a general rule of thumb if a child of two is making no attempt to communicate with others, regardless of whether the words are mispronounced or are incorrect then it is worth going for a checkup. Other things to look out for would be an inability to organically produce speech, to only resort to imitation or an inability to follow simple verbal directions.

2) Delay in gross motor skills

The pandemic may have caused a delay for some in a gross motor skills due to a lack of play spaces or places to exercise. Children, like adults, are all physically different and what is easier for some is challenging for others – this is normal.

However, if you are noticing obvious signs of floppiness or muscle stiffness you need to see your GP as this may indicate a health condition, similar warning signs would be an inability to walk or stand by 18 months. If you are noticing that your two-year-old is struggling to run or jump, this may be related to a lack of exercise caused by the pandemic.

This is not a cause for concern in itself, but make the time to get out and explore larger play spaces and start building that muscle strength, if this does not improve- speak to your GP.

3) Social delay

This is the big one and the psychology community are all fairly aligned that the pandemic will have impacted social development in some children. This might present itself as  having profound difficulty playing or sharing with others with a nursery school aged child, or a lack of desire to interact with others in toddler aged children.

The best remedy for this is social interaction and as much as you have time for, and restrictions will allow.  If you are extremely concerned you can ask a friend or family member just to get a second opinion and then decide if you would like to seek more professional advice.

4) Emotional disturbances

All preschool children struggle to some degree with social interaction, this is normal and a common maturational point in their development. However, if you are noticing a child expressing great distress at being in crowds, or becoming unusually angry with others or withdrawing completely, this may require a little more input.

In the first instance talk to your child, tell them what you have noticed, and see how they respond. Open the conversation up and let them talk. If, however, they are expressing behavior that is affecting your daily life or family wellbeing it may be worth consulting your GP for a possible referral for counselling

When to call the psychologist about a delay

I have personally witnessed an alarming rise in paediatric OCD as a result of this pandemic, and any behavior that involves obsessive thoughts that promote great anxiety or fear, combined with rituals or tics – requires a professional evaluation.

All children suffer with anxieties from time to time, but if there has been a marked in the child since the pandemic or if the behavior is preventing the child doing things they previously enjoyed- pick up the phone to the GP.

Equally children who are expressing thoughts of self-harm or harm to others always require immediate professional attention, preferably from a child mental health professional.

Alison McClymont is a leading children’s psychotherapist. She has over ten years experience within this field. Alison is the author of ‘Wilbur’s Memory Box’. Keep up to date with her on instagram @AlisonMcClymontinsta.

Photo by Josh Applegate