Lipreading (also called speechreading) is often viewed as a strategy used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, everyone uses lipreading, to some extent, to help them understand people as they talk. The reliance on visual cues from lipreading became apparent when they were suddenly taken away by widespread mask use during the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools began to reopen for in-person learning, some parents expressed concern that the use of masks could negatively impact speech and language development for children.

At this time, there is no scientific evidence that mask use causes delays in speech, language, or learning in children. It is important to know that young children are naturally primed to learn to talk, assuming the child has typical hearing.  Although infants and young children do get information about speech sounds by looking at the mouths of people talking, being able to hear and listen to the speech sounds is the most important factor for developing speech and spoken language. Evidence of this is the fact that children who have vision impairment and normal hearing sensitivity are still able to develop typical speech and language skills.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have provided statements with guidance regarding mask use and speech and language development in children. Safety in public spaces, including schools and daycares, is of the utmost importance and must be prioritized. Therefore, it is always recommended that you follow local regulations regarding mask use.

Because you do not have to wear masks at home, parents have a unique opportunity to give their children access to rich and robust spoken language models with full visual cues. Talking, reading and playing with your child at home without masks are great ways to support your child’s development. Those activities can give your children access to meaningful speech, vocabulary, and facial cues.

By Keena James Seward, AuD, MA, CCC-A/SLP