While the pandemic affected people from all walks of life, children were the most affected. Several studies have shown that the pandemic has not only robbed kids their playtime and social interactions, it has also affected their motor and communication skills, Nature reported.
A team of researchers at the NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital along with those from Columbia University in New York City analysed neuro-developmental differences between babies born before and during the pandemic.
While most newborn babies at the hospital exposed to Covid-19 seemed to do just fine, the study findings showed that the infants born during the pandemic scored lower, on average, on tests of gross motor, fine motor and communication skills compared with those born before it (both groups were assessed by their parents using an established questionnaire).
Importantly, it didn’t matter whether their parents had been infected with the virus or not; there seemed to be something about the environment of the pandemic itself, the report said.
The pandemic induced lockdowns isolated many young families, robbing them of playtime and social interactions.
Another study led by researchers at Brown University’s Advanced Baby Imaging Lab, found that babies motor, visual and language skills dipped during the pandemic.
The findings, posted on a preprint server and which may soon appear in JAMA Pediatrics, showed that the pandemic-born babies scored almost two standard deviations lower than those born before it on a suite of tests that measure development in a similar way to IQ tests.
The team also found that babies from low-income families experienced the largest drops, that boys were more affected than girls, and that gross motor skills were affected the most.
The longer the pandemic has continued, the more deficits children have accumulated. “The magnitude is massive – it’s just astonishing,” Sean Deoni, a medical biophysicist from the lab was quoted as saying.
Although children have generally fared well when infected with SARS-CoV-2, preliminary research also suggests that pandemic-related stress during pregnancy could be negatively affecting foetal brain development in some children.
A team from the University of Calgary in Canada surveyed more than 8,000 pregnant people during the pandemic. The study posted preprint showed that babies born to people who reported more prenatal distress – more anxiety or depression symptoms – showed different structural connections between their amygdala – a brain region involved in emotional processing, and their prefrontal cortex – an area responsible for executive functioning skills, the report said.
However, some researchers propose that many of the children falling behind in development will be able to catch up without lasting effects. “I do not expect that we’re going to find that there’s a generation that has been injured by this pandemic,” said Moriah Thomason, a child and adolescent psychologist at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.