With the current time we are living in, wearing a face mask while out in the community has become essential to keeping ourselves and others healthy. With the transition back to school happening soon and more places in our community opening back up, it may be required that your child wear a face mask in many community-based settings. This can be a challenge for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and individuals with various other disabilities that have sensory sensitivities which may make wearing a face mask uncomfortable or scary. Face masks also hinder breathing freely and communicating clearly which may add to the difficulty of wearing face masks for individuals in these populations. Preparing your child for wearing a face mask prior to going out into the community may be necessary to help your child be successful and become more comfortable with wearing it when required. The following are a few ways to help your child become more comfortable with wearing a face mask and make it more likely that they will be successful with wearing it when out in the community:
1. Let your child pick out their own face mask if possible. Having the face mask have something preferred on the mask, such as a favorite character, and allowing your child to feel out different fabrics may help increase their desire to wear the mask.
- Start with having the face mask on the table near your child where it is visible to them.
- If your child is tolerating this, move the face mask closer to them slowly in small increments until it is next to them.
- Once your child is tolerating the face mask being near them, have your child touch the face mask.
- Have your child tolerate touching the face mask for a few seconds before having them pick up the face mask.
- Once your child is tolerating picking up the face mask, have them move it around it their hands to get exposure to how the face mask feels.
- Have a preferred reward available for your child following each of these small steps getting them closer to wearing the face mask.
2. Allow your child to get used to having the face mask around them before having to wear it.
- If your child is tolerating having the face mask near them and tolerating holding the mask for a few minutes, it may be a good time to have them wear it in home where they are the most comfortable.
- Have your child wear the face mask while in home for a few seconds at a time at first.
- Again, have a preferred reward available for your child following wearing the mask for a set amount of time.
- As they are showing tolerance for wearing the mask, slowly increase the amount of time they need to wear it while in home. Start with 5 seconds, then 10 seconds, then 15 seconds, then 30 seconds, then a minute, and so on until your child is tolerating wearing the mask in home for multiple minutes without taking the mask off.
- Make sure to reward them for any small increase in time that they successfully wear the mask.
- If your child is struggling with wearing the face mask consistently at a certain duration of time, take a step back. Go back to the last duration that they were successfully able to wear the mask for the total duration.
- Make the duration of time wearing the face mask realistic to what would be expected of them out in the community.
3. Start with wearing the face mask in home before having your child wear it in the community.
- A timer can be used to visually show how long the mask needs to be worn and to set expectations.
4. Use a timer.
- Once your child is successfully tolerating wearing a face mask in home, try having them wear the mask outside the house for a few minutes to see if they can still tolerate wearing it in a new setting.
5. Move outside.
- If your child is showing tolerance for wearing the face mask in home and outside, try going for a short trip to somewhere in the community. Try to keep your trip no longer than the duration in which your child has shown success with at home. Keeping the trip short increases the chances that your child will achieve success with wearing their mask in the community.
6. Community time.
- Allow your child to take a break from wearing the face mask when needed to make wearing it less aversive.
- If you notice that your child is becoming fidgety with their face mask or trying to touch it frequently, try taking them to a location where they can safely remove the mask for a few minutes before returning to where they need to wear the mask.
7. Allow breaks when needed.
- Wear your face mask along with your child to show them it is okay to wear it.
- Do a fun activity while wearing the face mask. Having a preferred activity or game to engage in while wearing the face mask may help distract them from being solely focused on the mask they are wearing. Also, it can help your child see that they can still do all of their favorite activities even with a face mask on.
- Put a face mask on a favorite stuffed animal to make them feel more comfortable with the idea of wearing it themselves. Your child can hold the stuffed animal while they are wearing the mask themselves.
8. Make it fun!
Trying some of these tips before going out into the community may help your child become more comfortable with wearing a face mask in different settings and increase the likelihood that they will be successful. Make sure to get started with getting your child acquainted with their face mask sooner rather than later to ensure they have time to get comfortable with it. Adequate preparation is key to their success!
BCOTB (Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay) has been Tampa’s leading early-intervention ABA therapy specialists since 2003. BCOTB accepts most major insurances, including TRICARE, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, Humana, Cigna, Anthem, CMS, MHNet, UnitedHealthcare, BayCare, Florida Blue, Meritain Health, Beacon, as well as offers private-pay options.