Updated: Feb 5, 2021
The information below is not meant to diagnose or treat. It should not take place of consultation with a relevant qualified healthcare professional.
Not everyone is comfortable wearing a mask; this may be especially true with kids on the spectrum—here are some tips for desensitizing the process:
Step one: Start with a short time frame. Provide a clear goal for kids to understand what to expect. Maybe 3 seconds is as long as they are willing to try. Start there. Hold the mask up to your kiddo's face after providing them with a cue like "mask on" or "on." Count to three and remove the mask. AND PRAISE (remember praise specific is best!)
Step two: Pair the time frame with a token board. Once the kiddo allows you to hold the mask up to their face for 3 seconds, provide them with a token. This allows them to know what to expect.
If your kiddo is not familiar with a token board, use it successfully with other skills first, so it has meaning.
Step three: Once your kiddo is successful for the targeted time (3 seconds in our example) and received all required tokens, give them a break.
Step four: Do it all over again. Provide a warning of what the goal is, "let's count to 3!"
Step five: After a few successful times completing the token board, attach straps behind ears. This may be met with an attempt to yank off the mask. Don't worry. This time, prompt the action while counting, including your kiddo's hands. You can clap out 1..2..3, or throw arms in the air one 1..2..3. Redirect that yanking.
Step six: Time to increase your duration wearing the mask. Don't overdo it - select an increment your kiddo can handle. 3 to 5 seconds is just fine.
Step seven: Keep going! Keep increasing increments, making sure to prep your kiddo. Don't forget to make sure to use your cue word and continue to provide tokens.
Step eight: When you have hit a few successfully completed token boards for a satisfactory duration, try a preferred activity! Favorite puzzle, Playdoh, whatever your kid is likely to engage in for a duration successfully. Provide their cue, attach mask, and let them play.
No token board is needed in this step.
Step nine: Now, for the tricky part. Wearing the mask in the absence of no preferred activity. Start with something that has a clear end. Like singing 'Itsy bits spider,' 'If your happy and you know it'..keep those hands moving. Once the activity is complete, allow your kiddo to remove their mask.
Step ten: Let's move around. Provide your cue, attach the mask, and go for a walk! Try to add some activities for your kid's hands, such as holding your hand with one, hands in pocket, etc.
Contributed by: Natasha Heaselgrave, MSc BCBA