The impact of lockdown on children’s speech and language development: what can we do to help?

The impact of lockdown on children’s speech and language development: what can we do to help?

A recent article published by the BBC highlighted the negative impact that the lockdown has had on children’s speech and language development. According to research, schools across England have reported an increase in the number of four- and five-year-olds needing help with language, and of the primary schools surveyed, 76% said pupils starting school in September 2020 needed more support with communication than in previous years.

As we gradually ease out of lockdown, it is clearly important that children and parents get the support they need as soon as possible. However, although the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions has no doubt been a contributing factor, a lack of access to speech and language services was a significant problem even before the pandemic. This continues to be an issue for many families across the UK and has been made worse by the events of the last year. According to the BBC’s report, the government says it is investing £18m in early-years catch-up, including extra help for those in early years, but how much this will help with speech and language therapy services during and beyond the Covid-19 recovery is yet to be seen.

One of the main requirements is better and quicker access to local practitioners, but those practitioners also need to have access to the right resources. Historically, there has been no one tool to evaluate speech and language skills directly and systematically in preschool children, which means methods may vary, are often informal, and subjective decision-making is prevalent. The Early Sociocognitive Battery (ESB) can address this need.

Language and communication skills are fundamental to all areas of development in young children. Interaction with others and everyday opportunities such as going to the shops and the park are central for learning language, so it is not surprising to see the recent research that has highlighted the adverse impact of the pandemic on children’s speech and language development. Arguably, the pandemic has exacerbated access to much needed speech and language therapy services which in many areas of the UK have long waiting lists. The report from I CAN¹ is a stark read and highlights the significant and long-term impact of speech and language difficulties and poor communication skills. Early identification and subsequent access to SLT services is crucial to ensure that children develop these key skills.

- Jennifer Warwick, Speech and Language Therapist and co-author of the Early Sociocognitive Battery


The ESB is a primarily non-verbal clinical assessment tool suitable for use with children aged 2–5 years and from diverse language backgrounds. It is a battery of three short subtests assessing sociocognitive skills known to be associated with language development and impaired in children with social communication difficulties and ASD. The subtests measure social responsiveness, joint attention, and symbolic comprehension to identify deficits in key sociocognitive skills and help speech and language therapists, psychologists, and other early years professionals target their intervention strategies appropriately.

The ESB offers a psychometrically robust, standardised assessment which provides a clear and objective measure of a child’s skills and can provide an early indication of communication difficulties. Depending on the child’s performance, the results can offer a basis for a referral for further speech and language therapy or psychological services.

As the BBC article highlights, research has shown that the problems with speech and language delays can have an impact on a child’s later development and into adolescence and adulthood. Language and social communication are critical for learning, development, wellbeing, and social mobility. Identifying speech and language difficulties, or problems with social communication at an early age can enable practitioners to develop suitable interventions and support children, and their families and teachers.

More about the ESB

  • The ESB authors have developed a comprehensive white paper on the measure, which explores the background and evidence base of the test, its unique features, clinical applications, and the implications. Download it here.
  • Watch this video to see how speech and language therapists work with children on some of the tasks included in the three subtests.
  • A one-day virtual training course is available through City, University of London. The course will provide attendees with the skills required to reliably administer, score, and interpret the results of this preschool assessment. The day includes background information and the evidence base, use of videos, training, and practice in scoring and interpreting results. For further information and to register for training, click here.

Visit our website or contact us directly to find out more about the ESB. You can also browse our full range of clinical and educational assessments and training courses in our new catalogue for 2021. Download it here.