By: Christina Mitro, OTR/L
Mask. Who knew that a four letter word could rock our world so drastically? Such a tiny square of fabric has completely changed the way in which we interact, socialize, and function during our daily routines.
Though a nuisance to most, imagine feeling as though that tiny square of fabric felt like vigorously rubbing a piece of sand paper against the skin every time you secured it onto your face. Ouch! This is one of the many ways to compare how a child with sensory processing difficulties experiences a mask. As a parent of a child with sensory processing challenges, you most likely have encountered a barrier in your child’s willingness to wear a mask.
According to the CDC current health and safety guideline recommendations, children over the age of 2 that do not present with difficulty breathing, incapacitation, or difficulty with removal should wear a mask in public settings and when around those outside of immediate family. But, what about those kiddos who experience touch more intensely – those who are hyper aware and hyper sensitive to soft or light touch? To them, such a simple task can be distressing, overwhelming, and unbearable.
With sensory overload and learning how to regulate the sensory system, there is never a “quick fix.” Take heart, there are some helpful tips based on an OT’s perspective, to aid in desensitizing and improving tolerance for mask wearing:
Incorporate the mask into play: Make it fun! We all know the word fun may not immediately come to mind when thinking of wearing a mask but fake it till you make it. A child’s main activity throughout the day is play. Increase comfort of wearing a mask by encouraging your child to implement them into play schemes. For example that favorite stuffed animal or doll can start to wear a mask or encourage playing dress up into various roles that may typically require mask-wearing (ie. Doctor, nurse, etc.). There are also tons of awesome resources that introduce masks into preferred tasks such as this mask coloring book.
Experiment with different fabrics or types: Some fabrics can be more or less restrictive or vary in texture. It is also important to consider how the mask loops around the ears, which can be a culprit for increased sensitivity. Having your child participate in making a choice between masks can make them feel more comfortable and safe. And – you can never go wrong with letting them pick fun patterns or colors. You can find some sensory-friendly mask recommendations by clicking one of the following links:
Slow and steady wins the race! – Provide your child with plenty of opportunities to practice mask wearing around the house. Begin with small increments of time and build up as tolerance improves.