Skip to content

Sensory Issues and Face Masks: Mother of Son With Autism Shares Advice

In an article this month, writer Shannon Des Roches Rosa described the challenges of wearing facemasks for people with autism, including her 19-year-old son.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced most people to venture outside wearing protective face masks for their own safety and to prevent the spread of the virus. For many people with autism, wearing these masks may be challenging, and at times nearly impossible, due to sensory issues which make the texture of the masks extremely uncomfortable. 

In an article this month for the Washington Post, writer Shannon Des Roches Rosa discussed her own experience managing the mask situation with her own 19-year-old son with autism. 

“His neurology makes him more sensitive than other people to touch and texture, and he cannot bear the feeling of having his nose and mouth covered by fabric,” Rosa explained. She also shared some creative solutions parents of children with autism have developed to relieve the discomfort of the masks. To relieve her son’s discomfort with mask elastics pulling on his ears, one mother sewed buttons on his favorite hat and pulled the elastics around those instead. For children who wear glasses whose lenses might fog from their breath, Rosa suggested tucking a tissue between the mask and the bridge of their nose, or changing their breaking pattern, although she acknowledged that this approach might not work for people with sensory issues or developmental disabilities. 

“Whatever you do, though, it’s best not to force a mask on your autistic child,” Rosa cautioned. “Although big changes, such as mandatory mask-wearing, are hard for many, they can be traumatic for autistic people.” Rather than demanding they wear a mask, Rosa advised that parents calmly explain to their children why masks are necessary.

“Give them opportunities to try different masks,” she wrote. “Be patient, be kind. Understand that your child may not be able to wear a mask, regardless of how resourceful and accommodating you try to be.” 

Rosa explained that her son is unable to avoid the uncomfortability of wearing a mask by staying indoors, due to his need for physical activity such as running or hiking. While he has received an exemption note from his doctor, not wearing a mask leaves him more vulnerable to the virus as well as to transmitting it to others. 

“This means we are in overdrive with social distancing and disinfecting,” Rosa wrote. “When he goes on his walks, we stick to our neighborhood, avoid busy roads and go outside early in the morning or just before sunset, when fewer people are around. We use sanitizing wipes on any benches he sits on — and douse his hands with hand sanitizer immediately after he stands up. The moment we get home, we do 20 seconds of hand-washing together while singing favorite songs. These safety measures have become a routine — and he enjoys routines.” 

In light of the circumstances, Rosa wrote that her family is “putting our efforts into keeping my son safe and healthy, and out of medical facilities as much as possible — because simply getting through each pandemic-era day is hard enough for us, and families like ours.”


Shema Kolainu - Hear Our Voices

About Shema Kolainu - Hear Our Voices

Leave a Comment