Last year brought about a new way of living day-to-day for everyone, but sometimes children have a harder time adjusting than the rest of us. Places of business require that every person entering the building, wear a mask for the duration of their visit. So, what happens if your child won’t wear their mask in public because they feel it’s uncomfortable or can’t get accustomed to it?
To help your child better acclimate to wearing a mask, we want to share some strategies that our Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are utilizing for children with autism who are also struggling. These strategies can be implemented with your child to help them become accustomed to this new routine.
START SMALL: As with any new skill, practice makes perfect! Natalija, a BCBA at BY YOUR SIDE, has been working with her clients on learning this new skill. First, she suggests setting the tone, so it is calming and fun, so your child remains engaged. When beginning this process with your child, Natalija says, “Start with the expectation that your child won’t be wearing the mask for minutes on end. You want to start with small goals.” Natalija recommends first showing your child the mask so they become more used to its presence. Let them touch it and keep it in their space for a while. “The important thing to remember to celebrate the achievements of completing the process along the way, no matter what step they’re on. Then, make sure to pair it with a reward of some kind,” she recommends.
After your child is comfortable with the mask being around them, start bringing it closer to their face where it should be. Hold the mask 12 inches away from your child’s face for a certain amount of time. Continue to decrease the amount of space between the mask and your child until they can have it against their face. After, try each ear loop for a certain amount of time until they are successful with both. “Once your child is successful three times without showing any behaviors, you can move on to the next step,” says Natalija.
SET YOUR CHILD UP FOR SUCCESS: Understanding your child and their boundaries or preferences will help to choose the best possible mask for them to wear. For children with autism, seams or tags can be uncomfortable and sliding masks can irritate their skin. Finding masks that are free from unnecessary fabric with soft ear loops that are easily adjustable would be best. Natalija said she has had many different reactions with her clients but reminds that “just because one thing doesn’t work, don’t get discouraged and think that nothing will.” In addition, make mask-wearing fun! Let your child choose a mask with their favorite character or superhero or a colorful pattern. Purchase multiple, if possible, so your child can always have a preferred mask even if one is in the laundry.
BE CONSISTENT: It is important to make sure you are consistent with your child when adjusting them to this new task in their routine. Keep your language simple and direct. It’s also beneficial to practice with your child wearing their mask at home or in comfortable spaces before going into public. Having your child wear their mask during other preferred activities at home will also help them become even more comfortable. If there are other people in your child’s life who take care of them, make sure to ask them to practice with your child as well. With new changes, there’s never one way to adjust and everyone creates their own routine, but it helps to do it together and make it fun!