'Understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the early speech and language development of children born with cleft lip and/or palate.'

Children born with cleft palate are known to be at risk of developing disordered speech and may have delayed early language development. During the COVID-19 pandemic, treatments for children born with a cleft were often delayed and the environment that young children were exposed to was different because of lockdowns, social distancing, and facemasks.

A research project was undertaken by a team of researchers at the Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit, funded by CLEFT, looking at whether there were differences in early speech and language skills between children born with a cleft whose first two years were impacted by the pandemic, and children who reached age two years before the pandemic started. The work was carried out using data from The Cleft Collective Cohort Study, a large national UK study following children born with cleft over time. You can read more about the study at www.bristol.ac.uk/cleft-collective.


The study found that there was no difference in early language skills of children who were aged 18 to 24 months before the first lockdown and those who reached 18 to 24 months of age between March 2021 and July 2022.

This is a reassuring finding. It is still important that we monitor all children’s development because there will be individual variation and change over time.

The findings have been presented at conferences attended by clinical teams and will be published in academic journals. A summary of the study has also been included in the Cleft Collective newsletter.

The Cleft Collective is a huge resource with lots of data on speech and language development in children born with cleft lip and palate and future research will use the data to address other clinically relevant research questions.