Professionals, Parents Share Strategies to Make Facemasks More Comfortable for Children With Autism
Wearing protective facemasks has become essential during the Covid-19 pandemic. For people with autism, sensory issues can make wearing these masks unpleasant, and in some cases extremely uncomfortable. This is problematic due to the social stigma that has become connected with not wearing a mask in public.
According to a report this month by the Canadian news site Coast Mountain News, Canada’s national chief public health officer Theresa Tam spoke out against judging people who are unable to wear masks due to autism or health reasons, such as asthma.
“Be very aware of those with different types of cognitive, intellectual disabilities, those who are hearing impaired and others,” Tam said. “Don’t assume that someone who isn’t wearing a mask or is wearing something different doesn’t have an actual reason for it.”
Dominique Payment, a family support representative for Autism Canada and mother of two children on the spectrum, explained that wearing a mask could aggravate the sensory processing issues connected with autism. She added that masks can also be a source of anxiety for children with autism due to associations with unpleasant experiences, such as going to the dentist.
“Unfortunately this whole COVID situation and everyone wearing masks can cause some anxiety for these children because they are associating with not-so-positive experiences,”
To help, Payment suggested having children put a mask on a favorite stuffed animal, or choosing the fabric color and pattern for a mask to prepare them for having to wear one.
In an article this past month for Yahoo.com, writer Amy Nielsen, whose 5-year-old son has autism, outlined a “Wearing a Mask Program” with strategies to relieve the discomfort of wearing a mask for children on the autism spectrum. These include “letting the child know that you’ll be wearing masks for the next couple of activities,” presenting the option to read or watch a social story or video, and looking in the mirror to show your child how the masks look on both of you.
“So far, he has been progressing well with the program,” Nielsen wrote of her son. “I send his Star Wars mask in his Star Wars lunchbox each day, and the therapist says he gets excited when he sees it. I am confident that with the help of his excellent behavior team, he will soon be happily wearing his mask, and when the world opens back up, we will be ready!”