Cleveland ABA therapy

Cleveland ABA Therapy Insight: Helping Your Child Wear a Face Mask

Wearing a mask has become required in many stores, restaurants, public event sites and schools. But complying with these mandates can be very difficult for children with disabilities and/or sensory processing needs. But our Cleveland ABA therapy team knows that doesn’t mean they cannot learn to overcome these aversions, particularly when it is a public health issue.

School districts across Ohio have various degrees of restrictions (some remain closed with only virtual school provided, others give parents the option to participate in virtual or in-person schooling and some are fully open). But just recently, the CDC released a series of guidelines for what it will take to safely re-open schools. As The New York Times reports, “the point of most agreement (among pediatric experts) was requiring masks for everyone: students, teachers, administrators and other staff. All respondents said universal masking was important, and many said it was a simple solution that made the need for other preconditions to opening less essential.”

If your child struggles with mask-wearing, our Cleveland ABA therapy team can help by incorporating it into our sessions, little-by-little, with positive reinforcement. But there are also ways you as a parent can help your child with this as well.

The more you practice at home, the more comfortable your child will be with this in other settings.

  • Make Your Child Part of the Process. Let your child pick their own mask, if you can. Having one they prefer (with a specific character or made of a special material, etc.) might reduce their aversion to it.
  • Give your child a chance to get used to it. Start with having it near them, in the vicinity. Incrementally, over a period of days or weeks (whatever your child is comfortable with) start to move it closer to them. Over time, let them touch it, play with it, etc. Eventually, you can work your way up to having it touch their face and ultimately wear it. Each small step will be positively rewarded with whatever motivates them.
  • Start by having them wear it in home/at therapy. Once they show a tolerance for having it near/on their face, have them start wearing it at home/in their comfort zone for short stints. Set timers and give big rewards for each success – even if it’s just 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, etc. Use a visual timer. Work your way up to it. If they seem to be really struggling, take a step back to the lower duration. Ultimately, you want to work your way up to what would be considered realistic wearing in the community.
  • Go outside, then into the community. Once your child does well tolerating the mask in your home, try having them go outside for a few minutes at a time to see how they do in a new setting. Then do the same for short trips elsewhere. Keep these early ventures brief to increase the chance your child will have success with it.
  • Give them breaks. If they need a break or you notice they touch the mask regularly or are becoming agitated, take them somewhere they can safely remove it for a few minutes before putting it back on. 
  • Make it fun! Make it an activity you do together. Wear it around the house to show them it’s ok and won’t hurt them. Do something fun while you’re “mask practicing.” Play a special game or give them something that will help distract them. It may help to see that they can still do lots of fun things with a mask on. Consider putting a mask on their favorite “lovey.”

The key to all of this is preparation. You want to be sure they have enough time to get used to it. Our Cleveland ABA therapy team is happy to help you plan for success!

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

CDC Urges Reopening of Schools With New Guidelines, Feb. 13, 2021, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

ABA Therapists Can Help With Autism Food Aversions, Jan. 5, 2021, Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog