For parents, especially parents of children with special needs, the pandemic and remote learning has brought on its extra challenges for you. What is to come with the new school year is anyone’s guess, but if you are planning to send your child to school, they may be required to wear a face mask or face shield for the length of the school day. If you are concerned about your child’s ability and/or willingness to wear a mask or shield for an extended period of time, here are three ways you can try helping your child with overcoming these barriers:
1. Exposure to the mask or shield will help your child become familiar with it, which will help normalize the practice of wearing it. To help expose your child to the mask or shield you purchased, start with having them touch it, feel the fabric on their skin and their face. Then, start practicing wearing a mask/face shield with a timer starting with 5 minutes, then adding 5 minutes every day. Remember that while in school, your child will be allowed to remove their face mask when they go outside and when they eat a snack or lunch.
While wearing the mask, try to incorporate fun activities like watching a short video of their choice or playing a game. When your child successfully keeps the mask on for the time that was set, remember to reward them with a preferred item or activity.
2. Visuals may also be helpful. There are several effective ways to use visuals, depending on what works best for your child. The easiest option would be to show a picture of someone wearing a mask/shield to your child. The picture may be a picture you find on Google, a picture of yourself or a picture of your child. This picture may serve as a visual reminder of how to wear a mask/shield and/or to use for a visual schedule.
When you use the picture as a visual reminder, you may try showing it to your child while they are wearing the mask/shield to remind them to keep it on and wear it appropriately. You may also use the picture within a visual schedule, either a First/ Then (for e.g., First Mask, then Video), First/Next/Then (for e.g., First Mask, Next Play Uno, Then Take Off Mask), or a day or activity schedule.
3. Children, special needs or not, may not seem to always listen when we want them to, but they also listen when we do not expect them to. How we talk about current events or whatever else is going on in our lives, can affect how children think and process those events. Even if you do not agree with mask or shield wearing, your child may be required to wear one when to attend school in person this fall. Positive talk about wearing a face mask/shield will help normalize and encourage the behavior for your child. It is important, though, to still validate your child’s feelings about wearing it by saying, for example, “I know it is uncomfortable but it is a school rule”. If your child is earning a reward for wearing their mask/shield appropriately, it is also a great idea to remind them what they will earn if they reach the goal for wearing it for the predetermined amount of time.
Social stories have been proven to help children with special needs understand why or how to complete various tasks. Social stories about the pandemic and wearing a face mask have popped up across the internet throughout the Autism and other special needs worlds. Visit the websites below to view the stories.