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Pro-mask pediatrics group denies scrubbing resources on importance of faces in child development

New recommendations on "universal masking" for kids over 2 coincided with a website migration, American Academy of Pediatrics says.

Updated: August 21, 2021 - 11:24pm

Less than a week after the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a lengthy tweet thread defending its pro-mask recommendations for children under 12, Twitter users started warning about an apparent memory-hole effort.

AAP resources on the importance of seeing faces to child development had recently disappeared from its website, now redirecting to the home page. It looked like AAP was trying to cover its tracks to align with its new recommendations.

The 67,000-member medical association has a different explanation: an unannounced website migration.

"The AAP has been in the midst of a large migration of content on our website to a new platform, a bulk of which took place this past weekend," a staffer who asked not to be named told Just the News Thursday. "Some content areas, including Early Brain and Child Development, are still being organized before they go live on the new platform."

Even if the disappearance of contrary content from its website was a coincidence, it's another stumble for the 91-year-old organization.

Last summer it advocated reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year and reversed itself two weeks later, after President Trump had repeatedly cited its recommendations to school districts. AAP issued a new statement signed by teachers unions and superintendents that added several qualifiers, including more say for teachers in reopening plans and more federal money for districts.

AAP has also become a flashpoint in the gender identity culture wars. It initially granted a booth at its national conference to the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine (SEGM) and then backtracked and rejected the group's appeal, "Irreversible Damage" author Abigail Shrier wrote in The Wall Street Journal this month.

SEGM is an international group of clinicians and researchers that frowns on the "affirmative care" model of gender-dysphoria treatment, which often involves rapid "transition" through hormones and surgery. Yet AAP approved booths for the National Peanut Board, Bible distributor Gideon International, cosmetics company L’Oreal and Infinity Massage Chairs, according to Shrier.

"Will never listen to them again"

AAP was ahead of even the CDC last month in demanding mask mandates for everyone over 2 years old, regardless of vaccination, essentially seeking an expansion of the rule on American flights.

But the group opened a hornet's nest in its Aug. 12 tweet thread, casually titled "Real Talk." It stated "COVID remains a serious threat to children’s health," which reflects recent CDC revisions that fly in the face of health insurance data on pediatric deaths.

AAP justified its support for masked children by noting those under 12 aren't eligible for COVID vaccines yet. "Face masks do not reduce oxygen intake," it said, seemingly responding to a peer-reviewed paper in JAMA Pediatrics that was retracted after it caused an outcry.

What may have drawn the most scorn, however, was the group's insistence that masks aren't a hindrance to language development. "[Y]ou may worry that having masked caregivers would harm children’s language development," it said. "There are no studies to support this concern. Young children will use other clues like gestures and tone of voice."

The same argument was made - and widely derided - a week later in a New York Times op-ed titled "Actually, Wearing a Mask Can Help Your Child Learn."

Tweet URL

Tannahill Glenn, who calls herself a "Board certified Clinical Neuropsychologist," responded that the AAP tweet was "alarmingly blithe" given reams of peer-reviewed research on "face processing, social cognition development, emotion recognition & speech/Lang [sic] acquisition."

Another user pointed to new Brown University research, awaiting peer review, on a plunge in cognitive, verbal and motor skills among children born during the pandemic, which was partially attributed to difficulty reading facial cues from masked adults.

A Georgia mother may have been the first to highlight the disappearance of an AAP primer that seems to run counter to the group's new narrative on faces.

"Face Time and Emotional Health" has been online at least since late 2015 through Aug. 11, the day before AAP's tweet thread. "I know because I remember getting it as a new mom, so [I] looked it up last week - WAS STILL THERE," the mother tweeted early Wednesday. "Will never listen to them again."

Another user suggested AAP's masking guidance, which explicitly mentioned vaccines, was actually a nod to its pharmaceutical funding.

Tweet URL

A D.C. transit activist flagged other disappeared resources that repeatedly emphasize the importance of parents and infants interacting with bare faces. 

Four to five month-olds can "[c]opy some of the sounds you say and the looks on your face," says a primer on books for that age group: "Act out pictures using your face" and "Copy the sounds your baby makes and the looks on her face."

"'Social referencing' is your baby’s ability to read your face when sizing up a stranger," the 9-month-old primer says. "If you smile at your baby and use soothing words, you are giving him clear signals that everything is fine. … Be aware of what you and your face are 'saying' every day."

A 2012 presentation by a Brown University clinical professor of pediatrics gives the same directions on facial interactions to "caregivers" - the group AAP says can be masked without harming language development - as to parents.

"Yes, we’ve seen this pop up on Twitter as well," the AAP staffer told Just the News, but the website has "similar content saying the same thing available elsewhere" and many other materials "also are on pause while the content is re-organized" in the website migration.

Users also seem to be conflating its recommendations on different settings, the staffer said. "AAP recommends masks in schools and public settings to protect children. These documents are more about interactions between infants and their parents or primary caregiver, much of which will be in a home setting where masks are usually not needed."