Helping kids with autism wear a mask during the pandemic.

We are still amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We are living in the new normal wherein we have to take some precautions to keep ourselves and our family members safe during this time. One of the most important precautions we are taking is to wear a mask in public places to keep ourselves safe. Most of our kids on the spectrum my son included have low immunity and are easily susceptible to getting an infection. So for families like us, these safety precautions are very critical to keep our kids safe.

We all know lots of kids on the spectrum have lots of sensory sensitivities. My own son has lots of them so wearing a mask is definitely challenging for him. Some of the kids on the spectrum might be able to tolerate the mask but it is difficult for lots of them. The summer break has just begun in Canada. Currently, we don't know what the situation will be when the school reopens in the fall but I feel as parents we should at least make an effort to help our kids get familiar with the mask. I do not want my son to get anxious about wearing a mask. 

We must continue to talk to our kids about the coronavirus pandemic in simple understandable language. We need to talk to them about washing hands and social distancing in simple terms. There are lots of tools available to us to help our kids. There are lots of social stories available online for free which cover a lot of these topics. We must continue to talk to them about the present situation. We need to help them adjust to wearing a mask on a step by step basis by the process of shaping.

Our kids need to get familiar with wearing the mask. This can be done by you or the other family member wearing a mask in front of them for a few days so they can get familiar with it. The next step is for your child to hold the mask. Make sure you praise them for this and offer them a reinforcer for doing the same. You must continue with each step for a few days to give your child sufficient time to adjust to each step. We need to make sure when we teach any new skill to our kids to start small. The next step will be to put the mask on them not covering their nose and mouth so they can get familiar with the mask. Use a timer for this step. Do not rush this one as the kids might find it extremely aversive to have the mask cover their nose and mouth right on day one. I am personally using all these steps with my own son.

The next step will be to slowly increase the time the kid can continue to tolerate keeping the mask on say for ten seconds. Start increasing the duration of wearing a mask as per your child's tolerance level. Use lots of praise for them to get used to wearing a mask and use reinforcers for them once they have completed each step. 

We need to make sure we don't force our kids to wear a mask if they are not comfortable with it. If they find it hard at any given time take a break over a few days and start again. Make sure you follow social distancing and if possible avoid taking your kids to public places at this time to minimize their exposure to the virus. Hopefully, the pandemic ends soon so we can revert back to our normal lives but until such time stay safe everyone.


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