What if I told you there was a way to decrease the need for a visit to an SLP for potential language delays?
Over the past 10 years or so, my colleagues and I began to notice a disturbing trend: parents were bringing their bright, young children into our office for delays in their speech and language skills. Upon sitting on the floor and playing with the children, we would be mindful of both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. As we would get to know the children and comment to the parents, one of the first discussions that would arise surrounded screen time/time spent on an ipad or iphone. With sheepish grins, the replies were often in the range of 1-2 hours a day, with a mention of making sure the content was educational in nature. When the suggestion was made to cut out screen time completely and focus on interacting directly with their children, most parents were completely on board! In almost all of these cases, the child’s language delays dramatically improved. As SLP’s, we had always felt that screen time hampers a child’s speech development. Children who are exposed to technology through these common devices, spend less time talking and interacting with others and miss out on so much information that comes from human interactions. Although, anecdotally, it all made sense to us, the scientific research was still needed to back up our claims. In August 2017, the American Association for Speech and Hearing (ASHA) published an article detailing recent research in this area. Dr. Catherine Birken, staff pediatrician at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto conducted a study on the effects of screen time from 2011 to 2015. She found that the average 18 month old had daily screen time of 28 minutes. She further quantified her findings: each 30 minute increase in handheld screen time translated into a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay. (Note: “screen time” does not refer to using devices for augmentative communication and the like)
In June 2018, the American Speech & Hearing Association (ASHA) published an article written by Samah Saidi, CCC-SLP. Ms. Saidi had also recently seen an increase in referrals of children 4 and younger. Upon further investigation, she found that these young children were often exposed to screen time of 5-7 hours per day! She is currently forming a network of pediatricians, school staff, and daycare providers to help spread the message that reducing or eliminating screen time is healthy for a child’s development. Of course, Ms. Saidi also offered parents the following strategies:
- Set aside dedicated times each day to play and engage with their children, from infancy and up.
- Limit their own screen time, as parents model healthy and appropriate behavior
- Create “screen free” zones in their homes and during certain activities-while outdoors or at the dinner table, for example.
If you would like additional direction regarding screen time and/or speech delays, please contact us. We are happy to help!