COVID’s Psychological and Educational Effects on Children

COVID’s Psychological and Educational Effects on Children

Clarify Health Institute recently released a report called “The Kids Are Not Alright,” which was a review of psychiatric utilization from 2016 to 2021.  The results are of a deep concern and reflect what many psychologists and therapists are seeing right in their offices.  Throughout many locations in the United States getting a therapist appointment is almost impossible.

The report showed a dramatic increase “in the use of acute-care services for depression, anxiety, and other mental-health conditions especially among teenagers and preteens.”  

From 2016 to 2021 inpatient admissions rose 61% … and it was particularly worse among adolescents 12-15 years old.  

In my own office I have seen many who are coming for evaluations for ADHD or Autism but somehow did not have these concerns before COVID.  Many teenagers, feeling the loss of their friends and therefore their support systems, have plunged into depression or gotten lost in video games.

Many younger children forced to go to online schooling find their attention span cannot hold up and simply do not cooperate.  Many of these children do not have ADHD at all but simply do not like online schooling.  They do better with the structure of the classroom and the hands-on touch of the teacher.

Special education students, often enrolled in a Section 504 Plan or IEP, benefit from the specialized teaching that sometimes cannot be managed online or is well beyond the abilities of supportive parents.  

A study recently released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) focused on a large nationwide sample of nine-year-old’s.  It documented the sharpest ever decrease in reading achievement between 2019 and 2022.  Mathematics skills also dropped.  The greatest decreases were in the bottom percentiles.  In other words, low-achieving students (whether that be due to learning disabilities or just correlated with income level), showed the worst decreases in skills.  The weakest students suffered the most loss of academics.

Other research suggested the following populations are also more severely affected:  

(A) Very young children, such as kindergarteners, are even more behind in the development of reading skills.  

(B) ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) had greater struggles participating in the “classroom” as it moved online.  Their abrupt shift away from an English-speaking environment and back to home also retarded their new language skills.

(C) Students with learning disabilities lost their aides and services to support their academic progress … and there are signs that longstanding learning disabilities are being exacerbated.

(D) LGBTQ students particularly need the support of their fellow students and are experiencing increased isolation and depression.

In the final analysis, a broad look at research indicates that most students have lost most of a year of education. 

Much of the impact and responsibility for this falls on our public schools who are often underfunded and undermanned.  Teacher morale is at an all-time low, especially due to political pressures on teachers currently.  In general, our country does not show respect for its teachers by giving them a more appropriate salary indicative of their effort and worth. 

Now that we have returned to brick-and-mortar schools, 80% of public schools reported “stunted behavioral and socioemotional development” in their students and a 56% increase in “classroom disruptions from student misconduct.  This was the result of a May 2022 survey by the School Pulse Panel. 

Not only are the students struggling, but administrators and teachers are too.  Sixty-one percent of public schools report that it is much more difficult to find substitute teachers.  Other studies show that almost half of public schools are reporting staffing shortages. 

Hence, there are several national needs as a result of COVID.  School-based mental-health services must improve.  School counselors and school psychologists must be hired.

“Catch-up methods” must be employed like extending the school calendar, providing more tutoring, or simply allowing teachers to review missed material from last year or the year before.

As a psychologist completing psychoeducational evaluations, it is my responsibility to better understand how much of a student’s difficulties came from their diagnostic condition, such as autism or a learning disability versus as the result of COVID-19 losses.  The answer then determines the treatment recommendations.