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A three-year-old New Jersey boy has been kicked out of his speech therapy class for not wearing a mask.
Read that again.
A three-year-old child with developmental speech delays has been told by his speech therapist that he must wear a mask over his mouth if he wants help speaking.
“For speech therapy for a toddler, masking isn’t exactly what you should be doing, at least in my opinion,” the frustrated mother told Fox News Digital. “It’s against what you’re trying to accomplish.”
“It’s like if a dentist required the patient to wear a mask, right?” she asked. “I think for speech therapy for a child, it’s the same thing.”
The mother, who lives in a liberal community and didn’t want her name used, said her young son’s speech therapy began right around the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic did, and at that time, her son was going maskless.
But NJ state mask mandates came, Omicron happened, and a therapist in the office became pregnant, and by early 2022, the mom received an email stating that, “out of an abundance of caution,” her child would have to mask up.
“All patients, they told me, had to begin wearing masks in order to receive treatment,” the mom said.
Naturally, she complained. The notion of covering a three-year-old child’s face during speech therapy sessions is, after all, absurd. But even after taking her case to the owner of the practice’s firm, the answer didn’t change: No mask, no therapy.
“If you don’t put a mask on him,” the mom was told, “we can’t provide services anymore.”
“They kicked us out,” she told Fox News Digital.
Mom did, according to the practice, have one possible option: She could drive 45 minutes to one of the practice’s other locations, where masks may not be a requirement — each location, it seems, could make its own mask policies.
“But I was not going to do that,” the mother said. “Really? Drive 45 minutes there and back with a three-year-old” in the car, not because of science, but because of arbitrary decisions made by individual practices.
Were they listening to science, the speech therapists would be forced to admit that mask mandates are reported as detrimental to speech development in babies and young children.
In an article for Scientific American, Ph.D. and adjunct professor in the Yale Child Study Center, David J. Lewkowicz, writes: “Babies and young children see and hear communicative signals and learn to attach meanings to them through their everyday interactions with their caregivers and social partners.”
“To figure out which face goes with which voice, that baby must learn that the mouth is the source of spoken language and that looking at the mouth is essential for figuring out whether a particular person’s face goes with a particular voice,” Lewkowicz continued.
In a research study, Lewkowicz found that babies begin lip-reading “at around 8 months of age,” which “enables babies to see the visible speech cues that they need to figure out which face goes with which voice.”
“Of course,” Lewkowicz adds, “babies cannot access visible speech cues if others are wearing masks.”
The lip-reading, which is indicative of a baby’s developing interest in speech, stays with the child into their toddler years, filling in the comprehension gaps with the spoken word is confusing.
“Crucially, once lip-reading emerges in infancy, it becomes the default mode of speech processing whenever comprehension is difficult,” says Lewkowicz. “This is illustrated by our latest studies in which my Spanish colleagues, their graduate student Joan Birules and I found that 4-6 year-old bilingual children lip-read more when they are confronted with speech in an unfamiliar than in a familiar language. … These findings are consistent with other evidence that adults resort to lip-reading when confronted with speech-in-noise, accented speech or foreign-language speech.”
So, in other words, seeing people speak is as important as a child’s ability to hear them speak, especially if language comprehension and developmental speech are already a challenge.
It’s something the toddler’s mom already, instinctively knew.
“I have put a mask on my child in other situations when I’ve had to,” she told Fox News, “but not for speech therapy for a three-year-old.”
Journalist Bethany Mandel took the issue a step further, saying, “What we’ve done to children is a catastrophic moral crime.”
What we’ve done to children is a catastrophic moral crime. pic.twitter.com/kCFTMRvhXK
— Bethany S. Mandel (@bethanyshondark) February 1, 2022
It’s hard to argue with her.
On Monday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy eliminated the state’s mask mandates for schools and daycares, though the amended measures won’t take effect until March 7.
Perhaps the loosening of mask requirements across the nation is why the mom’s original speech therapy office ultimately changed their tune.
Mom won the battle, and her son is now back, receiving the treatment he needs, without a mask to impede his progress.
“I’m not a person who complains about things for the sake of complaining,” the mom said. “But I had to stand up for my son in this situation. It didn’t make sense to me.”
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