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5 Tips to Help Children on the Autism Spectrum Wear a Mask

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With the recent changes in our society due to Covid, children in most areas across our country are mandated to wear a face mask. Schools, stores, as well as many entertainment venues are requiring some sort of face covering to enter and stay for any period of time.

Thanks to Halloween, some children may enjoy wearing something on their faces; however, it’s a bit different when they have to wear them long periods of time. It can be difficult for our kids with autism to embrace change, and wearing a mask is no exception.

Since our goal is to get our child to wear a face covering successfully, keep reading for five ways to help get your child to wear a mask, and do it comfortably.

1. Talk to your child about why they need to wear a mask.

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are people we were used to seeing in masks. Now, just about every face you see in public is covered. For children with autism, this could raise a lot of questions as well as cause some pretty severe anxiety.

One of the best ways to help your child understand what is going on is to use simple words to explain why people are wearing masks. Some children with autism will need a significant amount of time to see what is going on and get used to their new normal. Change is hard for our kids. Acknowledge their feelings and do lots of self-talk so they can hear and watch you work through it.

Some children may ask a lot of questions. Answer their questions to the best of your ability and give support as best you can. There may be times when they need extra support.

2. Give your child time to practice wearing a mask at home.

Before heading to the big outdoors, first, have your child practice wearing their mask at home. Teach them how to put them on and take them off, as well as properly store them when not in use for an extended amount of time.

Start with a few minutes or even seconds every day and increase it slowly. Often, our kids with autism just need to become comfortable with something new. Never let it lead to a meltdown if you can help it. You want to make positive episodic memories.

Please note: According to the CDC, children who are 2 and under should not wear a mask. Also, any child that has difficulty breathing (such as asthma) or cannot remove a mask without assistance should not wear one. Please use discretion. Always check for updated guidelines.

3. Make masks together.

There are several no-sew options for making masks using materials and supplies you already have at home. Find a good set of easy instructions like these, and invite your child to join in. Give them a sense of ownership by inviting them to pick out patterns (if you’re purchasing cloth), or allow them to decorate their masks.

Depending on the type of mask, they can decorate them with markers and stickers. Help them make something they are proud of, thus making them more likely to wear it.

4. Incorporate mask wearing into their everyday playtime.

Sometimes children are able to easily transition to something new when it is a part of their everyday life and activities. Provide your child with extra masks to use during playtime. Let them put the masks on baby dolls and/or teddy bears. You can also invite them to play doctor and nurse.

During their play, ask open-ended questions. Their response to your questions will help you gauge their understanding and address any concerns or misunderstandings they may have. Play is learning, so never discount using it to introduce something new to your child with autism.

5. Give your child with autism time.

Some children with autism will need extra time and assistance with getting used to wearing a mask. If they are showing signs of anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue, consider asking your therapy team for assistance.

When all else fails, accept how they react and comfort them. Always be willing to talk about it and show love. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know you are on their side. Their success is your success. For some children, it helps to draw out their feelings, so always provide that as an option as well.

These are trying and adjusting times for children, autism or not, just as much as they are for adults. Our children are always watching how we respond and react to situations so we can help them cope by monitoring our own mental health levels, talking about the situation, and properly expressing how we feel.

Originally published: August 16, 2021
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