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How can I get my child with autism used to wearing a mask?

Writer: Bethany Vibert, PsyD

Clinical Expert: Bethany Vibert, PsyD

en Español

Q How can I get my child with autism used to wearing a mask?

For children with autism, things that have to go on their faces or on their bodies can be really challenging. They can have aversions to sensory experiences  and may have reactions that we can’t understand. A great goal to start working on with your child in preparation for going back out in public, including to school, is getting them used to wearing a mask.

Try to find a really low-stress time to introduce them to their mask. Have it around the house if you can. Perhaps they can pick out a mask that they find and have fun with it— maybe their favorite color or character.

I’ve done that with some of my patients, and we’ve also had some nice success practicing wearing the mask inside in short increments. Start with small goals like holding it over their mouth for just 5 seconds at a time and give your child a reward for doing that successfully. From there you build up to longer periods of time or different aspects of the mask.

Doing this will give you an idea of their likes and dislikes, and what exactly about the mask they might be struggling with — what might be fueling frustration or refusal.  Some of my patients have found the little loop behind their ear uncomfortable. So we’ve tried masks that have different kinds of closures — like ties around the head.

Then, as you do go out in public, try again to build up the amount of time you’re requiring them to wear a mask and follow it with a reward or reinforcer. I recommend picking low-stakes situations,  small trips to places where it doesn’t really matter if it goes wrong. Maybe it’s a trip to the park or a quick trip outside just to practice wearing their mask.

The goal is to give your lot child plenty practice to really build up to that bigger moment. It is important to take it slow, model wearing a mask for them, and give your child time to get used to it.

This article was last reviewed or updated on October 12, 2023.