COVID-19 wreaked havoc on many families for whom loss was a personal affair, economies were ravaged and major industries brought to their knees. The devastation has undeniably been widespread, and sadly, its aftermath is still being felt.
Closer, and more personal to my work, COVID has left behind some real burden on families, in particular toddlers, which calls for our considered appraisal.
I recall a cute video of a toddler who would stop at any protruding surface then proceeded to “sanitise” her hands. She did this at several of these protrusions as she was walking. As cute as this video was, its reality nonetheless disturbing. The world has changed in irreversible ways in the past 2 years because of Covid-19. This little girl may possibly have a phobia for germs that the world contributed to shaping for her. She probably doesn’t wonder what the rest of a person’s face (underneath the mask) looks like, like I do, because people having half a face is a look that she has become accustomed to; it’s her norm.
As a speech pathologist, I can see the devastating effects of the pandemic on children born in the year 2019, who are now filling many speech pathologists’ waitlists for services. A majority of these youngsters have already been labelled “autistic”, and many have began the long wait in various waitlists to access early intervention.
Many may never get to the front of the queue, or may not get to do so in good time. Because, if there was already a stretch for speech therapy services before the pandemic, which there was, that need is about to rise exponentially.
The pandemic dealt these children a great blow! They came into the world when anxieties were high! We lived each day with fear. Parents had to do what they did to protect their children from the dreaded virus, because little was known about the virus, parents erred on caution. These children were not allowed out. They did not go to the playground, and they were kept as far away from any visiting older children (eg. cousins), who were feared may not be following high protocols, and so they remained tucked away from the rest of the world, for their own good. Meanwhile, their parents lived each day with a dull, but unmistakable anxiety that loss was imminent, so they did what any typical parent in the proximity of danger would do to protect their child; clutch harder. And, clutch they did, in fact, they clutched so hard that the grip only lessened not too long ago. I shudder to even contemplate the effect on mental health such an environment passed along to the youngsters.
The world now has a new generation of children who are not well socialised, who are dangerously adept at occupying themselves because whilst they were lucky enough to have their parents there with them at all times, thanks to remote working, they however did not have much of their parents’ time, thanks to remote working.
For the children who had older siblings, they still didn’t benefit from the socialising opportunities siblings present because their siblings were likely engaged in home learning, with… you guessed it, their parent who had to spend much of their time supporting this sibling with their learning, go through own learning curve, and all of this whilst also trying to focus of their “remote working”.
When these children have shown up to in-person evaluations in many clinics across the globe, they have been met by mask and face shield-wearing practitioners (Covid-19 deterrents). Can you picture it? How would you warm up to someone that looks like they just landed on earth from outer space. Meanwhile, there isn’t time to consider let alone unpack all these nuances with a screaming, bemused, or slightly irritated child, hopeful parents and a practitioner preoccupied with the thought of writing an 8-page report; the 5th of the day and one of a string of others from previous days’ assessments.
The situation, no doubt, less than ideal for all involved.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created various aftermaths that many of us haven’t stopped to take in because we are too busy rebuilding and going about our usual motions.
But, I am convinced that this calls for a complete stopping because if we all carry on as business as usual, we are missing the new trends that cannot be addressed using the old strokes.
It’s time to re-evaluate and re-invent.
Remember the scene in Men in Black where the potential recruits are being evaluated and they’re asked to identify and extinguish the ‘enemy’. Without thinking, most of the guys (all representing the best of them) started to shoot at various targets that had stereotypical traits. Will Smith on the other hand takes his time, amidst all the “noise” and eventually goes for the most unlikely target, which also happened to be the correct one.
As a speech pathologist, I strongly feel that the world has changed in ways that call for us to learn new tricks. I do not want to spend my working days (and nights) writing 8-page reports, which do little to really impact a child’s skills. Parents want to be supported first and foremost.
Is there a way of supporting parents while they sit waiting in our waitlists so that the 6, 12 months they are not receiving services can count for something?
The world is made better through changing single lives!
For every one of these children whose future is uncertain because of their communication difficulties, presents a significant impact to our collective consciousness.
What is the measure of my effectiveness as a speech pathologist? Should it be that I can write brilliant reports, that I methodically go about my work according to the format prescribed to me, that I work hard/long hours for the 10, 20, 30 children on my caseload, while the 100 on my waitlist wait their turn?
Do I have a responsibility over the long waitlists, or is that someone else’s problem? If I do feel responsible, what new ways of working am I implementing? If I don’t feel responsible, whose problem is it?
Am I optimising for the wrong measure of success and subsequently ending up perfecting the wrong behaviour?
I realise that these are not easy questions, but they are also not hard ones. While I may not have all the answers, I am interested in being part of the solution!
I welcome new perspectives on old as well as emerging issues in the profession and solutions.
If you are reading this as a parent with a toddler impacted in the above by the Covid-19 pandemic, do feel free to reach out and I will share guides you can follow as you are waiting for services.
I am a speech pathologist who is constantly challenging notions about not just the profession, but life in general. I am always exploring ways I can push boundaries. Naturally, I crave interesting ideas.