Has anyone ever told you that your face is easy to read? We often take facial expressions for granted, not even realizing when we make one. These expressions are important cues that tell us what the other person is feeling or thinking. For those with sensory processing disorders (SPD), it can be difficult to interpret facial expressions in the best of circumstances. With faces half-covered by masks because of Covid-19, those cues are even harder to decode.
Rivka Dear, early childhood program director at Caskey Torah Academy, is considering the impact that masks will have on children. She said, “Children receive information through their senses and break apart that information in order to understand the world around them. The concern with wearing masks in the classroom is that children with sensory processing disorder are not able to interpret nuances of facial expressions so they need to rely on their other senses, which are weaker to begin with. This makes their already tough job of processing information even more complex.”
If you’ve looked at someone’s eyes above their masks, you’ll notice that their eyes squint when they smile and glare. Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), especially, have a tough time making eye contact and therefore find it even more difficult to determine someone else’s expression through their mask. Imagine starting a new school year, with new teachers and new classmates, yet you can’t see their faces because of a mask. It is overwhelming to many children not to be able to recognize and distinguish people from one another. Adding a transparent window to our Social Masks provided the ultimate solution to the dilemma.
By wearing Social Masks, with a transparent window over the mouth, communication issues are drastically reduced. These masks still provide the necessary protective coverage while enabling the wearer to display facial expressions and see those of other wearers. Sensory integration becomes less of an obstacle during these times, allowing those with SPD or ASD to continue thriving in as familiar an environment as possible. The transparency also makes the masks less obtrusive on people’s faces, so that children are less likely to be frightened by them.
You can help your child get used to wearing their mask by slowly introducing the concept, perhaps on a favorite stuffed animal. Let them touch the mask, exploring the way it feels against their own skin. Wear it for short periods of time, until they are no longer bothered by it. Another great idea is to use a non-verbal cue to put on the mask before leaving the house. For example, hang up a photo of someone wearing a mask by the front door as a simple reminder for your child.
Are you a therapist or parent? Have you dealt with the difficulties of wearing a mask for those with SPD or ASD? We would love to hear your thoughts and tips as we all move forward during COVID! Let us know what you think in the comments below!