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Helping People With Autism Manage the Challenges of Mask Wearing

Millions of lives have been upended by the pandemic that has gripped our nation for the past seven months, but for those who are on the autism spectrum, the challenges can be even greater, starting with wearing a mask.

At Plymouth Psych Group, our team of compassionate and skilled practitioners understands how COVID-19 has affected those who are on the spectrum. The masks, the change in schedules and routines, and the overriding anxiety can certainly take their toll.

To help with mask wearing for those who have sensory issues, here are a few tips that will go a long way toward keeping your loved one, and those around them, safe during these difficult times.

Finding the right mask

One of the best ways to accustom your loved one to wearing a mask is to make it a little less daunting. To get started, have a few different types of masks on hands that are made from different fabrics and materials. As well, try to choose patterns and colors that you know your loved one likes. Manufacturers have answered the call, and there are masks of every conceivable color and theme to choose from.

Getting comfortable

Once you have the masks on hand, allow your loved one to touch them and encourage them to put the fabric up to their face. If that goes well, try and get them to loop the mask around their ears, one ear at a time. If they truly dislike having the loops around their ears, you might want to try a mask that ties at the back of their head instead. You can also try a bandana-type mask.

It’s important that you demonstrate to your loved one that they can still talk and breathe with the mask on, so you should wear a mask, too, to illustrate that point.

Setting time limits

As your loved one gets more comfortable with the mask, practice longer periods of wearing the face covering. You should set a timer that your loved one can see so that they don't feel “stuck” in the mask. Instead, they can watch a timer count down and then remove the mask.

As you progress, set the timer for longer times so that when you’re ready to go out, your loved one can easily tolerate the mask for as long as they need.

Explain mask wearing in simple terms

When you introduce mask wearing, be sure to explain it in simple, but black-and-white (concrete), terms. You don’t need to overdo the explanation, but rather say, “If you want to go to XYZ you need to wear the mask.”

Then, when you feel they’re ready, get into the car and head out to their favorite place, but make the first trip a short one. For example, if your loved one adores ice cream, use that as a carrot to try wearing the mask in public. When you arrive at the ice cream shop, say, “Time to put the mask on so that we can get ice cream.” Then, you can go in, get the promised treat, and leave, allowing your loved one to enjoy their cone, mask-free, in the car.

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to mask wearing for those on the autism spectrum with sensory issues. You know your loved one best, and you can turn to any methods that have worked well in the past when it comes to introducing a change like this.

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