Although wearing a face mask has become essential in our society, many kiddos with sensory concerns may not be able to tolerate wearing one for long periods of time, or at all. Masks can be hot, itchy, feel restricting and cause anxiety.
—Here are some ways to promote wearing a mask with children who have sensory related concerns:
- Whether your child is verbal or nonverbal, it’s important to first TALK about wearing a mask, explaining why it is important and what it’s for. This helps decrease anxiety.
- Model wearing one yourself. Make it fun by playing dress-up with stuffed animals or dolls to also model wearing a mask.
- Let your child pick out their mask. Give them options. The color. The texture. Let them feel it, explore it, play with it to get used to it. This helps them feel in control of the situation, also decreasing anxiety.
- Work up to wearing the mask for longer periods of time and out in public (at school, the grocery store, etc.). Practice wearing it at home, during optimal times of the day, and for shorter periods of time, even if just for a few minutes at first. Increase the time frame each time you practice wearing it to improve tolerance.
- Use a social story or book to explain mask wearing further to make kiddos feel more comfortable doing it.
—Also it’s important to think about the social implications wearing a mask has. Children often read our moods by social cues given off by affect and facial expressions. This is a type of communication that can be crucial for kiddos who are non-verbal. Ways to help: make sure your child is familiar with wearing the mask and seeing others wearing it, use bigger expressions (even under your mask) in order to make your eyes and eyebrows more expressive as they can also read your eyes, practice peek-a-boo games with the mask revealing different emotions each time, and play “guess my expression” in which your child will have to guess what emotion you are expressing under your mask!
*Check out this awesome video clip of a Sesame Street episode that helps Julia, a 4-year-old muppet character diagnosed with autism, learn and understand the concept of mask wearing!