The pandemic induced lockdowns isolated many young families, robbing them of playtime and social interactions.
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 fetal 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.