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Children with disabilities struggle to comply with mask mandates as Buffalo Public Schools return to in-person instruction

Sensory issues can cause children to be unable to wear masks, despite the requirement from the school district.
Oishei Children's Hospital
Posted at 1:45 PM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-06 18:00:30-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — According to the Buffalo Public School system, all students must comply with the mandatory mask mandate.

Yet for some children, especially those with disabilities, its not so simple.

“For a lot of individuals … sensory challenges make it really hard for something to be touching their skin, covering their mouth and their nose, perhaps obstructing their vision. Its a foreign feeling. Having something around your head, for some kids with sensory issues its actually really comforting - but for other children its really disturbing and they cant really function with it on," said Kathy Doody, a special education professor at Buffalo State College.

If your child is having trouble adapting, Oishei Children's Hospital says is offering tips to parents of kids with autism to help them adapt to wearing face masks.

“It’s becoming clearer that even as more and more people get vaccinated and things begin to open up, face masks will most likely continue to be part of our daily lives for the foreseeable future, and getting kids with ASD to follow these guidelines is key to keeping them safe,” said Michelle Hartley-McAndrew, MD, medical director of The Children's Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Oishei Children’s Hospital.

OCH is offering the following tips to parents of children with autism

  • Demonstrate using the face mask on a preferred object or person, such as a stuffed animal or doll, or a family member.
  • Practice mask-wearing while your child is calm and do so for short durations of time, allowing for breaks as needed.
  • Empower your child by given them control, letting them choose the print or fabric of their mask.
  • If your child is bothered by the elastic straps around their ears, try a mask design that uses strings that tie around the head or clips that hold the straps together away from the ears.
  • Try having the child practice during a special, preferred activity – something they can only do as they practice wearing a mask to help build their tolerance and create positive associations.
  • Set your child up for success. Plan outings requiring mask-wearing in low-demand environments that are quiet and calm.
  • Show your child a photo of themselves wearing a face mask and use it as a visual cue alerting them to put on their mask before an outing. The photo can be kept close to the door or on a phone or tablet that is easily accessible.
  • Practice together – one, two, three, mask on!

You can find more information by clicking here or by calling The Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Oishei Children’s Hospital at (716) 323-6560.