How to help autistic children adapt to wearing a face mask

It’s challenging enough getting kids – and even adults – to wear face masks, but for autistic children with heightened sensory sensitivity, it’s even more difficult.
“Normal fabric masks are just not going to cut it,” say Rhys van Wyk of Ushanti Solutions who supplied Lize du Toit, operational director at Edu-Play, with shields, suitable for kids with autism. The shields are comfortable, 100% washable and has no maintenance parts.

Face masks for autistic kids

Below they answer some of our questions about mask wearing and autistic kids.

Why would autistic kids battle more than non-autistic kids with fabric face masks, and any other face mask for that matter?

Autistic children may experience sensory sensitivities and can be more sensitive to certain fabrics. Their hypersensitivity can make wearing clothes painful or uncomfortable for them. For many, wearing shoes and clothes is already a challenge. There are many nerve endings around our mouths and on top of our heads which may lead to more discomfort for an already tactile defensive child when having to wear a mask.

What are the solutions for autistic and non-autistic kids when it comes to wearing face masks?

There is no simple solution or recipe in terms of getting autistic or neurotypical children to wear face masks or shields. Preparation is however key for many autistic children. By using a social story explaining that they will be wearing a mask and why, they might be more willing to wear a mask or shield.

Children can be exposed to wearing a shield or mask in informal play situations such as placing them on toys to get them used to the idea. This can then be followed up by short introductory periods of wearing of the shield or mask and then gradually progressing to wearing it as required.

Autism has an impact on social and communication skills. Many autistics may find reading nonverbal communication as well as the facial expressions of others even harder when they are wearing a mask. Having a clear face shield available to both the Educator and the learner could be beneficial to learning as the learner will still be able to experience, learn from and practice using facial expressions as well as other social cues to communicate and express themselves.

Is there a way to explain the importance of wearing a mask?

A social story with pictures which consists of a short concise language which explains  what the Coronavirus is and why masks must be worn can help. A video showing them how to put the mask or shield on step by step is also beneficial. Using the child’s interest such as their favourite character can be beneficial.

Using the child’s interest such as their favourite character may be beneficial. A step – by – step guide on how to assemble, disassemble and clean the masks will be provided. The step – by – step visual sequence will be in picture format and put up in the classroom in order for kids to be able to access them at any time.

A routine is a very important factor, being an integral part of retaining the information communicated in the visual schedule. Routine will also assist in decreasing anxiety for our autistic children.

How is a shield less sensory disturbing than other masks?

Sensory sensitivities or sensory issues will impact each autistic differently. It must be considered that any facial restriction might cause discomfort to an autistic child. Often as adults, we feel constrained in our breathing when wearing a cloth mask, the shield could offer kids free breathing space.

With a shield a child could also feel more ventilated as some of the other alternatives available, can tend to make one feel warm, and uncomfortable as moisture accumulates due to breathing.

Where does one get the shields?

They are R35 each and there is no minimum order volume, they fit all sizes and anyone is welcome to order. On bigger volumes we are able to offer discounts so a school placing an order together would be more economical than parents ordering individually.

For more info, go to www.ushantisolutions.com.