Any suggestions for what to do if my child is having difficulty wearing a mask?

Having to wear a mask can be challenging – it is uncomfortable at times and can make it harder to communicate in the ways that we are used to. Wearing a mask may be particularly challenging for children with developmental disabilities who may have sensory sensitivity, difficulty with change, or challenges in social contexts. To support your child, we suggest the following:

  • Introduce ways for your child to become more familiar and comfortable with the mask before expecting them to wear it. This may look different depending on your child’s age and ability levels.
  • Some children may need to take a gradual approach, only introducing the next step once your child is comfortable. For example, 1) holding the mask, 2) bringing the mask towards their face, 3) touching the mask to their face, 4) putting the elastic over one or both ears, and 5) finally putting the mask on.
  • We also recommend the use of visual examples, such as this social story for wearing a mask from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, this video social story on wearing a mask, or even by looking at pictures or videos of others in masks.
  • Practice wearing the mask for blocks of time within the home before transitioning outside of the home. Practicing in the home can also give you a sense of how long your child is able to tolerate wearing the mask. Set a visual timer so that your child knows how long they need to wear the mask, and don’t forget to add in some reinforcers/rewards to help motivate your child to practice!
  • Allow your child to pick out their own mask! You may have to experiment with different fabrics and colors to find one that works best for your child.

What is the best way to explain to my child why we they need to wear a mask?

In our very first post, we have suggestions for speaking with your child about COVID-19 that apply to wearing a mask. For example, it is important to use language that is appropriate to your child’s developmental level. We recommend being honest and factual while also aware of your child’s understanding of what you are explaining to them. Be mindful of what information your child is taking in from other sources – peers, social media, the internet – and sit down with your child to make sure that they have a clear understanding of what is going on. Using concrete, simple language is usually best; for example, “We are wearing a mask to keep us safe from germs.”


This post is part of a multi- part series of articles written by Dr. Jamie Barstein, Clinical Psychologist at The Help Group with expertise in working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities as well as their family members. 

Contributions to this series were made by Dr. Laurie Stephens, Senior Director of Autism Programs at The Help Group.