Friday 7 August 2020

Getting my autistic kids to be comfortable with face masks

A few months ago I wrote a post about how I talk to my young children about the coronavirus COVID-19 and how do I keep them safe?  It has sparked a few responses particularly as, like myself, many of our readers have children with autism, comorbid conditions or other disabilities and might not be able to wear one. 
Although my kids are exempt from wearing a face mask themselves, then still need to be OK with me wearing one and I'd like my autistic kids to be OK with wearing one if they can. So how did I go about getting them used to the idea and even wearing one themselves?

Start with why

Not all kids will understand why we have to wear face masks, but if they do then it can make it easier for it to happen.  I wrote this post about talking to kids about COVID19 and if you've managed to get that far then there's a good chance they may understand about why wearing a face mask helps.  It stops the virus going from person to person. 

However you talk about it,  be honest and talk to your child in a way that's appropriate for their age.  The stats can sound scary but thinking your parents are hiding something that's dangerous from you is worse.  Kids might end up asking why other people are wearing 'things on their faces' and wonder why they aren't A clinical psychologist once told me that if you hide worries from your kids they then have two things to worry about - the thing that's the worry and the fact that they don't know how bad it is.  

Our daughter is seven years old and hasn't been to school, or prior to lockdown easing out anywhere for anything other than a walk really.  She's very happy to wear a mask and actually even said she feels uncomfortable when she see's other people without them.  I can help her understand that not everyone can wear a face mask but that it helps if they can and knowing what the rules are makes her (and many kids) feel OK about it. 

Make face masks familiar

I don't know how much of what David hears is understood.  A lot of the time we use visuals to help him know what's happening.  So if I think I'd like him to wear a face mask then it's a good idea if he's familiar with it first.

We got some and had them in the house and I think I wore one in the house a few times and David saw me try it on.  They are on the TV a lot and I could try and point them out to the kids... "Look Lewis Hamilton has his face mask on" so that it's something that they see.  You could even have photos around of people or family members wearing them. 

As soon as I thought face masks might become mandatory, I started wearing them to the shops and they became part of a routine for me to put on before we went.  I honestly thought David might not like me wearing one, but perhaps by then they seemed a bit more normal. 

At home, David has played at wearing a face mask.  Yes, a few time he put it on as a blind fold but it was all part of a game to get him familiar with the item. 

Make it a routine and what we do 

Whatever you use to help make a routine or let your family know what's happening add face masks into it. 

I found this awesome wearing a face mask social story that you can watch as slideshow or download as a pdf.  As David id pre-verbal in his activities we initially didn't think social stories would be helpful but were amazed when they were. We use them for routines like bedtime and to suggest ways to behave, like how to behave around people or in situations. It gives him a framework and as he has a great memory he knows what to do.   

If you use PECS then there are lots of photos of face masks online that you can use to add into a PECS request or you can even add it into a daily schedule; car, face mask, shops, home, for example. 

Get a face covering that works for you if you can 

There are lots of face masks for kids that are a bit smaller and fit better.  They are made form different materials so you can find what might be more comfortable for you family and their sensory needs. 

We have some cotton ones that can be washed and this is good because it means that the kids can wear the same ones each time and they end up smelling like our normal laundry detergent instead of something else. 

Being kids one also means they fit better and that makes them more comfortable for our lot but it's all about what works for you.  You could also look at using something you already have as a face covering and this would be more familiar for your family too. We have several buffs which are multifunctional headwear that we use in the autumn and winter and these are thin, washable and easy to use as a face covering over you nose, mouth and chin.  As we already have them it's not unusual to have them on... just our of season.  

More than anything my kids have to comfortable with what's going on and ultimately they aren't required to wear one due to their age and / or disabilities. If it's not happening they won't be wearing one and should be respected the same as everyone else. We've fortunate that they can wear one with this support and will give them the opportunity to when we can. 


  1. Some really helpful tips in this post. I have Aspergers syndrome and I found shopping difficult before covid and would avoid it if possible but now it's unbearable. I find the sensory element of a mask overwhelming and though I am exempt I find dealing with the judgment from people and having to explain myself so anxiety provoking that I now avoid shopping altogether.

    Katrina x

  2. Such an interesting read as I work with some autistic children. #kcacols

  3. I can only imagine how difficult a change like this could be for those with Autism. It can be quite restricting and scary for most people, I always feel as if I cannot breath properly. But you have shared some wonderful tips on how making the transition easier. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time.

  4. I love your suggestions on how to help ease them into wearing masks. I work in retail and I'm sure you can shine the fuss being made over wearing them. We have a lot of elderly customers who are exempt but want to wear them.i did suggest wearing them for small periods to get used to them #KCACOLS

  5. Some great tips - sounds like you've done a great job encouraging your kids to wear them :) My son really struggles with the feel of it - we have soft cotton ones but he hates anything on his face. He's only 5 so doesn't have to wear one but like you said, I'd like to encourage him! So tricky! #KCACOLS


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