October 21, 2020

SPD and Face Masks: Helping Children Adjust

How you can help your child with SPD adapt to wearing a face mask

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. That means we must continue to take precautions and protect each other; this includes social distancing and wearing a face mask to help prevent the spread. School districts around the country are returning to in-person learning. While this has advantages for kids, it does present new challenges to their health and safety, as well as that of teachers, administrators, and other school staff.

Most schools are following CDC guidance and requiring students to wear face masks for in-person learning. While this might be difficult for any child, those with sensory processing disorder (SPD) face even bigger challenges. We discuss some of the issues your child might face below and provide solutions to help everyone cope.

Problem #1: Inability to read facial expressions

It’s amazing how much we communicate without words. Facial expressions can reveal more about how we’re feeling than words at times. Unfortunately, wearing a face mask obstructs that ability since your mouth and nose are covered. Others can’t see your smiles, frowns, or any expression at all.

Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and those with SPD, already have difficulty interpreting facial expressions. They might also have trouble making eye contact. So you can imagine that adding face masks to the mix can make it even harder for them to read others. They might not even be able to tell one person from another, especially around new classmates and teachers.

Problem #2: Anxiety about wearing a facial covering

Some children with SPD are overly sensitive when it comes to anything touching their faces. This can lead to a state of hyperarousal, which amplifies the sensations and cause more anxiety. Both of these issues can be difficult for your child … and you as a parent. Frustration is a normal reaction for both parent and child, but there are things you can do to minimize the reactions and anxiety. There are even ways to tackle an inability to see facial expressions.

1. Find a mask with a transparent window

There are facemasks with a transparent panel over the mouth. This mask allows others to see your facial expressions. This type of mask is also helpful for people who are hearing impaired and are used to reading lips. You can buy transparent facemasks online at places like Etsy or Amazon.

2. Make wearing a face mask a game

If you can make wearing a mask fun, you will go a long way to getting your child to go along with the program.

Some game ideas with masks are:

  • Pretend you’re doctors taking care of stuffed animals (who can wear masks, too!)
  • Pretend to be firefighters who must put the fire out
  • Act like scuba divers swimming through the living room
  • Be scientists doing experiments
  • Dig for dinosaur fossils in the sandbox
  • Weld couch cushions together to make a bridge
  • Have a spa day and do your nails (after all, the manicurist wears a mask!)
  • Pretend to be a dentist checking the teeth of stuffed animals
  • Cover your faces during card games to “hide” reactions to your hand

3. Move slowly and gradually

It’s important to introduce mask-wearing slowly. Show your child a clean, new mask and allow him/her to examine it before putting it on. Let your child put the mask on, if that helps. Start by having your child wear the mask for only a few minutes. You can slowly work up to wearing it for longer periods of time.

4. Tell a story about why we wear masks

Your child might not understand the importance of wearing a mask. All he knows is that it bothers him. Perhaps you can make up a story that explains why masks make us safer. You can also find child-friendly articles that can help you explain why we all need to comply with mask mandates. Explain it in a way your child will understand.

5. Be a good example

One of the best things you can do is demonstrate proper mask protocol yourself. If your child sees you wearing one, he/she will be more likely to follow suit.

Seek help from Lumiere Children’s Therapy 

Lumiere Children’s Therapy offers occupational therapy and treatment for children with SPD. We focus on working toward a child’s individualized goals and needs. We want children to become as independent as possible.

One way we make a difference is through something called sensory integration therapy. This technique helps the brain adapt so your child can learn to process and react to sensations more efficiently.

Read more about our treatment options for SPD.

We also provide other comprehensive therapies so children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions can achieve traditional milestones.

Other services include:

  • Speech therapy
  • ABA (behavior) therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social work
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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