Wearing a face mask has become essential in these times. For any child, wearing a mask can be difficult and it is even more challenging for a child with autism. Here are some tips to help make the task somewhat easier.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many changes upon us. One of them is the necessity of wearing a face mask at all times when you step outdoors.
For certain people, especially those on the autism spectrum, this can be very hard. Given their sensory issues, wearing a face mask can feel suffocating. Here are some ways that parents and caregivers can help the child get comfortable to the idea.
To the extent that is appropriate for the child, you could consider giving information about why its important to wear the face mask. This can be done in a story form using pictures.
“We should explain to them the importance of wearing masks”, says Deepthi Biju, Autism Club Ernakulam. “We could also show them videos on what will happen if we don’t wear a mask. This way they see that everyone is wearing masks and feel they should too”.
Ease the child into wearing a mask. Start off with a few minutes at first and then increase the timing gradually.“If the child likes a certain fragrance, we can spray that lightly on the mask”, suggests Deepthi.
If your child is older, you can even get him/her involved in making a face mask. They can choose the fabric they find most comfortable and design masks that match their favourite clothes for instance.
Some children with sensory issues may find it difficult to wear the usual face masks with stitching and elastic. From our experience most children like masks made soft cloth. We have tried making simple masks without stitching for their comfort. – Deepthi Biju, Autism Club, Ernakulam
In case of sensory difficulties, it might be a good idea to start off with scarves. “Create a tolerance for face coverings”, says Seema Lal, Special Educator and Co-founder of TogetherWeCan, a parent support group.
Scarves that can be tied at the back of the head may be a good place to begin with. Also, let children have ample opportunity to see others at home wear masks. “Model the behaviour”, adds Seema. “For children experiencing difficulty around the ears, you can put a cap on the child and strap the mask to a button fixed in the cap”.
Always always keep extra face masks handy when stepping out. Make the child practice wearing the mask at home for a while before stepping out instead of putting it on just before you leave the home. It might also be a good idea to let the child put a face mask on a doll or another person he/she feels comfortable with. This could be a superhero doll or stick figures the child plays with.
“Avoid repeated verbal reminders, instead prompt physically and fade the same slowly. Visual cues too can be given like making a photo of the child with the mask and you can show it as a reminder to when they are supposed to be wearing it”, adds Seema.
Making short trips outside the home with face masks on might be good practice when you have to step out for a longer duration.
All this will take some patience and planning and always remember to praise your child for the efforts he/she makes.
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