WACO, TX (FOX 44) – The need for speech therapists is high coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic with some children unable to communicate.

During lockdown, children were limited to outside interactions, and masks hindered the process of learning how to form words.

Elite Therapy Center has six locations across Central Texas, but in Waco they’ve had to add five extra speech pathologists to the team to get children up to speed.

“We see kids that may have no words at all, that they are completely frustrated. Parents don’t know what to do. Kids are hitting, they’re biting, they’re crying, they’re throwing tantrums, and parents are at a loss,” said Heather Field.

This is one of the first things Elite Therapy Center speech pathologist and co-owner, Heather Field notices in children post-covid.

“We’re seeing a reduction in vocabulary, we’re seeing reduction in pragmatic skills, social skills,” said Field.

Studies show increased screen time, mask-wearing, and limited social interaction has impacted children’s cognitive and language development.

Unable to produce words, respond to questions, or follow directions, some children are resorting to physical gestures or expressing extreme emotions which can develop into long term problems.

“If they’re unable to catch up with their peers, then they could fall behind in school and maybe have deficits for the rest of their lives,” said Laurie Maler, Elite Therapy Center leading speech pathologist.

“The fine and gross motor delays and disorders that develop out of it, and the mental health issue. Behavioral for sure,” said Field.

Maler says some helpful ways to support children’s development are taking them to the grocery store to experience different situations and consistently interacting with them.

“I always tell parents that if they feel like they’re talking nonstop, then they’re probably doing a great job,” said Maler. “They should always be interacting with their children and telling them the things that are around them and what they’re doing.”

Every speech pathologist we spoke with says early intervention is key making it easier to quickly solve problems.

Doing this will lower the cost of therapy, and give a child the help they need.