Wearing a face mask to protect yourself and others has become a reality for all of us this year, including young children.
They've had to adapt to wearing masks for long stretches of time, whether they're at school, daycare, church, community gatherings, or other small gatherings. For many, dealing with these changes can be difficult. However, it doesn't mean it's impossible for kids to learn and adjust.
"People tend to underestimate kids, especially kids with disabilities, but kids are pretty resilient," said Dr. Candice Lake, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA, LLP, Director of Wedgwood Christian Service's Autism Center for Child Development. "Even children severely impacted by autism are adapting to the new rules we have in place at the center and are learning to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash their hands thoroughly.
"At Wedgwood's Autism Center for Child Development, we provide individualized therapy to address all areas affected by a child's autism spectrum disorder, and that includes teaching them how to participate in their community safely."
To assist parents and caregivers, Wedgwood Christian Service's Autism Center for Child Development has released the below tips to help effectively teach kids to wear masks:
Set aside a few times every day to practice this skill and choose a mask that fits your child well and is comfortable. Find different items that your child may want to earn for wearing the mask and save these items for when you are working on wearing the mask—don't let your child have them at another time. Ask your child for ideas of what they would like to earn. Don't be afraid to switch it up! Keep your child motivated by changing what is available often.
Practice Wearing the Mask
Follow the below teaching sequence to practice mask wearing with your child.
- Ask your child, "What do you want to work for?" and have them choose an item to earn for wearing the mask. Set the item they select in view but out of reach.
- Say, "Put on your mask" and prompt your child to place the mask on their face. Help as necessary, using hand-over-hand prompts, if needed. Fade your prompts as your child gets better at putting on the mask.
- Be sure to praise your child for putting on the mask by saying, "Great job putting on your mask!"
- Have your child wear the mask for 10 seconds, and then take it off of them. Do not let your child remove the mask on their own. If your child is crying, pretend you don't hear—don't tell them to stop or that they are okay or say anything else about it. Though this sounds unnatural, it will help your child get used to the mask more quickly and be less upset about it! You can distract your child while you wait for the time to be over by telling a story, singing a song, making funny faces, etc. Just don't talk about the mask or the child's behavior. When time is up, remove the mask. Say, "Good job wearing your mask!" and provide the item your child was working for right away.
- Provide the reward immediately upon removing the mask, and allow your child to play with the item for at least one minute.
Repeat the teaching sequence multiple times until your child tolerates the mask without attempting to take it off or having any tantrums. When your child can do this for the current length of time (10 seconds), increase the time for the next practice session. Gradually increase the length of time required to wear the mask in order to receive the reward (10 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes, three minutes, and so on). Continue practice sessions until your child can wear the mask for the desired length of time.
When your child is able to wear the mask consistently without problems, reward them every once in a while for wearing it. If your child is losing interest, switch up the reward.
For further assistance, Wedgwood recommends seeking services from specialists such as behavior analysts or behavioral psychologists.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.