PARK RIDGE, Ill. - Among the parents strongly pushing Illinois to drop its mask mandate in schools is those who have children with developmental delays and other underlying vulnerabilities.
One top behavioral health doctor says full-time mask-wearing is putting those students at an even bigger disadvantage, relative to their peers.
"For [3-year-old Jack] it's really an adverse effect," said Kevin Hanley, a father from Park Ridge. "It's weighing on him even more so than other children in his age group."
At 19-months-old, Jack was diagnosed with speech and social/emotional delay. He didn't speak until about a year ago.
Hanley says mask mandates for students and teachers are setting Jack even further behind.
"Having to wear a mask and see others in masks, he's really lacking the ability to really learn the non-verbal cues from facial expressions and also seeing how mouths move when you pronounce words," Hanley said. "It's making what is already an uphill climb even more difficult."
Dr. John Walkup chairs the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Lurie Children's Hospital. Walkup estimates 15-percent of school-aged children are vulnerable, like Jack, to falling further behind as a result of mask-wearing; this includes kids who live with conditions like ADHD, autism, and depression.
"They're just going to have a much, much harder time. For kids with ADHD, they have trouble making and keeping friends. You put them in a mask with ADHD and they're not treated and not appropriately managed, those kids are going to have trouble," Walkup said. "Kids who suffer with depression, being pulled out of that social situation – masking, all of that stuff – it's just going to make their ability to manage their symptoms even worse."
Hanley says at this point in the pandemic, it should be up to each parent to decide whether to mask their children.
"Every parent is on a journey to try to give their children what is best for them," Hanley said. "They want to give their child every opportunity to succeed and to grow, and to be their best version of themselves and with this mask mandate, my son Jack is held back."
Dr. Walkup says while that 15-percent is more vulnerable, he expects the other 85-percent to bounce back quickly from any developmental delays caused by mask-wearing and other pandemic-related restrictions.
If you believe your child has an underlying vulnerability, Walkup advises contacting your pediatrician about a treatment plan.