Speech Therapists Raise Alarm Over CDC's New Childhood Development Guidelines

Agency that pushed for widespread masking lowers standards for toddlers' speech development

Schoolchildren wearing masks / Getty Images
February 22, 2022

The country's top association of speech therapists raised alarms Monday over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidelines that lower expectations for childhood development milestones.

The CDC updated its "milestone checklists" this month for the first time since their release in 2004. The new guidelines add a benchmark that children should learn 50 words by 30 months of age—a standard that clashes with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association guidance, which state that saying fewer than 50 words at 24 months is a sign of a language problem. The organization, which represents more than 200,000 speech pathologists and scientists, released a statement Monday expressing concern about "inconsistencies" in the revisions, which it is in the process of analyzing.

"ASHA has reached out to CDC, expressing its concern about inconsistencies and urging the agency to utilize the expertise of SLPs when making changes to developmental milestones in speech, language, feeding, and social communication," the group said.

The CDC revisions come as the agency has pushed for widespread masking amid the coronavirus pandemic. Studies have shown that masks hinder the speech development of infants because they conceal facial reactions. Babies begin lip reading to help develop speech skills at eight months old.

The CDC says that the literature review and revision process for the "milestone checklists" were completed in 2019.

"The milestones included in the checklists represent skills and abilities that MOST children are able to do by a specified age," Belsie González, a senior public affairs specialist for the CDC, told the Washington Free Beacon. "As always, CDC will continue to collect feedback, review data and information, and make appropriate adjustments if necessary."

The revisions were released in coordination with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has ramped up its lobbying in recent years. The group spent more than $1 million in lobbying annually from 2019 to 2021, its highest expenditure ever.

The CDC also removed a recommendation that parents talk with a doctor if their child hasn't learned at least 6 words by 18 months. The new standards cut that expectation to three words. For physical indicators, the CDC also removed a standard that children be able to crawl at six months. A lower expectation for child development could mean delayed referrals from doctors for speech or physical therapy.

Supporters of the update say other additions to the standards will help parents identify autism in children at an earlier age. These indicators include a focus on when children first show different positive emotions, such as smiling and clapping. The new guidelines also raised the percentage of children expected to meet the standards from 50 percent to 75 percent.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children over the age of two wear masks.

Published under: CDC , Masks