“The group with CZS [with microcephaly] has immediate delays across the board—in motor, speech, language, and swallowing skills—and that’s what we expected. However, we did not expect to see delays in the group of children without microcephaly who were assumed to be typically-developing at birth. In this group, we are noting particular delays in the receptive and expressive skill domains.”
Dr. Lindsay and her colleagues plan on following the cohort of children at least until the age of five when they transition from CDGC to the public educational system in Saint Lucia.
“We know that the developmental delays we are seeing now will likely have long-term educational and social implications for these children and their families,” she said. “I believe that even our initial results offer local and regional health and educational systems an important preview of what is to come as children with confirmed or suspected prenatal exposure to ZIKV approach the age of schooling, not only in Saint Lucia but across the region.”
Dr. Lindsay notes that the emergence of speech and language delays is particularly critical to plan for because many countries in the Caribbean have few or no resident allied healthcare providers such as speech-language pathologists and audiologists. “Our research findings speak to the need to develop these fields in sustainable ways in the region,” she said.
Additionally, Dr. Lindsay believes that this interdisciplinary research project provides an opportunity to shed light on the important role of speech-language pathologists in public health research. “This project has opened my eyes to the need for allied health providers to be involved in research that addresses public health concerns, and I hope it is a model of how SLPs can bring our specialties and unique lens to projects that focus on the lasting effects of viruses such as ZIKV, and now, COVID-19.”
While COVID-19 has caused the research team to re-evaluate their goals for this year, Dr. Gardner and Dr. Lindsay maintain a positive outlook. “COVID-19 may limit some of our in-person research activities but we hope to continue seeing our children and families and supporting them via telepractice during this time.”