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10:10 AM

Helping Children With Autism Adapt to Wearing Face Masks

By Lee Mason,Ph.D., Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Cook Children's Child Study Center

Historically recognized as Autism Awareness Month, April 2020, like everything else, has been overshadowed by COVID-19.

It’s important to recognize that children with autism are adapting to new daily routines just like the rest of us, but for some, new routines can be hard to establish.

For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently recommended the use of cloth face coverings in public settings, like grocery stores and pharmacies.

For kids who don’t like wearing shoes or other tight fitting clothing, parents may be wondering how in the world they can get them to wear a face mask?!

Research on applied behavior analysis points to two solutions to adapting to new routines: pairing and shaping.

Pairing is a method introducing unfamiliar objects, like a face mask, to children with autism. To appropriately pair the new item, we deliver it to the child along with positive reinforcers like tickles and hugs.

Prior to asking the child to wear the mask, we simply want them to become more familiar with it. We can do this by giving them a mask followed by praise or high fives. Don’t be afraid to be silly with it either! Try making goofy faces with your child and using the mask to play peek-a-boo. Once the child is comfortable in the presence of the mask, we use shaping to get them to wear it.

The goal of shaping is to reinforce each small step towards wearing the mask. With pairing, we simply want the child to enjoy holding the mask. Now we may provide the same rewards for (a) bringing the mask toward their face, (b) touching the mask to the face, (c) allowing us to pulling back the elastic, and (d) fitting the elastic over the head.

It sounds easy, but each step may require several trials, and it’s important not to move ahead too fast. As we continue to celebrate this year’s Autism Awareness Month, let’s remember that we’re not the only ones who are adjusting to a new way of life.

About the Child Study Center

Child Study Center Cook Children's (CSC) provides children with complex developmental and behavioral disabilities the highest quality diagnosis, treatment, and education, to help them achieve their full potential. Developmental and behavioral challenges are frequently multi-dimensional. At Child Study Center, not only do we understand that, we embrace it. Click here to learn more.

About Jane Justin School

Jane Justin School, in partnership with families and the community, fosters the knowledge and life skills necessary for our students to achieve productive and meaningful lives while respecting and embracing the individuality of each child. To achieve this mission, Jane Justin School responds to the changing needs of our students and their families with compassion and educational excellence. Click to learn more.

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My son doesn't have an autism diagnosis, but he has issues with tight clothes and wearing certain textures. Due to this, he has had daily behavior struggles at daycare. They are expecting he wear the mask all day except during lunch and outside time. Do you have any suggestions to help? I feel like I've tried everything and I am absolutely devistated. I don't like seeing my son struggling. I just want him to be happy. Please help!