At The Washington Post, Shannon Des Roches Rosa explains why masking requirements may be a big problem for people on the spectrum.
Autistic people have varied individual experiences, preferences and needs, so although some kids can’t tolerate a mask, others are just fine with it. But before requiring them to put one on, consider the factors that may make masks intolerable or inadvisable for an autistic person:
- Anxiety: A mask doesn’t block breathing, but it does change the feeling of one’s airflow. For some autistic people, this can feel like suffocation.
- Sensory: My son can’t stand having anything covering his face. Some kids can’t bear the feeling of mask elastics pulling on their ears. One enterprising mom fixed the latter issue by sewing buttons on her son’s favorite hat and pulling the elastics around those instead.
- Visibility: If your child wears glasses, masks may fog them up. There are fixes, such as tucking a tissue between the mask and the bridge of your nose or changing your breathing pattern, but these solutions may not work for people with sensory issues or developmental disabilities.
- Smell: I nearly passed out from my own mask-confined coffee breath. Autistic people can be extra sensitive to smell, so be sure your child brushes their teeth before trying on a mask.
- Epilepsy: A significant percentage of autistic children have seizure disorders. Not being able to see an epileptic child’s face can be a safety risk if they have distinctive pre-seizure facial expressions. Masks with clear sections over the mouth, developed to aid deaf people, may be an option.