AUSTIN (KXAN) — A recent national survey found an increase in kids ages zero to five years old with hearing loss and speech delays.

“Members of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association who are certified audiologists and speech-language pathologists were polled post-pandemic,” said Dr. Robert Augustine. “We learned that one third of our audiology members discovered young children were experiencing undiagnosed hearing loss during this time. Similarly, 80% of our certified speech-language pathologists were discovering delays in language and difficulties in language as a result of the pandemic.”

Dr. Augustine is the president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, or ASHA, and says kids likely didn’t get the help they needed during the pandemic and when they did, there was a backlog.

“We know that many of the things that would have promoted speech-language and hearing during this period of time weren’t available to children, they weren’t going to school, they weren’t interacting with their family members or their friends, they may have not been able to get to their pediatrician, or doctors to be evaluated,” Augustine explained. “So, all of this is likely to have contributed to the fact that we’re seeing an increase in these areas.”

The results of the survey from roughly 1,000 members with ASHA found the following:

  • Among audiologists, 34% report seeing more children with a delayed diagnosis of hearing loss, and 36% report more children with untreated (persistent) ear infections that could interfere with communication development, compared with before the pandemic.
  • Among speech-language pathologists, 84% report more children with emotional or behavioral difficulties, 79% report more children with delayed language or diagnosed language disorders, and 78% report more children with social communication difficulties than before the pandemic.
  • When it comes to factors contributing to increases in referrals beyond backlogs, audiologists and speech-language pathologists point to limited opportunities for social interaction and play with peers (59%)limited formal pre-K and daycare or interaction with outside adults (57%) such as child care providers, preschool teachers, and extended family; and young children (51%) spending more time using screens and technology such as tablets and smartphones compared with pre-pandemic years.

Dr. Augustine stresses that parents look for the any signs of hearing loss or speech delay to help get ahead of the problem.

“For example, for younger young children if they’re not responding, when someone tries to interact or not looking at you, or if they get to that 10-month period and they’re not responding to commands, not saying those critical first words, it’s really important to get the child evaluated.”

ASHA has created a list to help parents identify the signs of hearing and speech disorders in children.