While putting on a mask before leaving the house has become routine for many of us, it can be incredibly difficult for individuals with autism due to sensory challenges. Since the very beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Eden Autism teachers have been working with students and their families to help them become comfortable in the masks.
The approach varies student to student, as each child has a different comfort level. Some students may not like the texture of the mask, while others may struggle with the feeling of the mask on their face.
Erin Bonafede, Lead Teacher in High School 3, has first shown students staff and family members wearing masks before having the students put one on themselves. “We then present the masks to them and do not require them to wear them,” said Erin. “By doing this, I feel this allows the students to become accustomed to how they feel to touch and look on others.”
Over the course of several sessions, students eventually put on the mask until they sign that they are finished wearing it. “My staff and I have been using students earning time as an opportunity for them to also wear the masks because they have been more receptive to keeping the masks on for longer when engaged in preferred activities,” said Erin.
Head Teacher Jessica Kann has families offer different types of materials and masks to let the student choose which one they prefer to wear. “A lot of our parents at first didn’t think their child was going to wear a mask, but just giving them the opportunity most of my students have surprisingly put it on,” said Jessica.
Jessica also praised parents and families members for their work helping their son or daughter become desensitized to the masks. With the Eden School building still closed due to the state’s coronavirus safety guidelines, teachers have been working remotely to help students and families. Parents, siblings, and other family members are sitting in on sessions to work with teachers, and many teachers said they are doing tremendous work.
“I have to say it’s a lot of the parents and really stepping up and asking us for advice or help,” Jessica said. “They make it functional.”
When a student is finally comfortable wearing a mask outside or even to run some errands with their family, all the hard work is worth it.
“It’s so motivating,” said Jessica. “It just keeps you going, especially in a time like this with the virtual learning – things can feel a little repetitive. But seeing these great accomplishments are huge, and they make everything worth it.”