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As people get ready for the school year now, some have been preparing for longer.

“I think about May it became clear that coronavirus, we were going to be in for the long haul, and that it wasn’t likely to disappear when school reopened in the fall,” said Tara Patterson-Garner, mother and registered nurse.

Many questions are being asked about the school year, especially parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or a sensory disorder. How will their children handle wearing masks?

Many children on the spectrum or with a sensory disorder have mask tolerance issues.

“Mask tolerance meaning the length of time you can tolerate something over your nose and your mouth,” said Tara.

Building that tolerance takes time and practice.

“First of all, I think, depending again upon your child, the child needs to understand that one of the ways to be kind to others is to wear a mask because that’s how you keep any germs you might have from going into the air and creating problems for other people,” said Dr. Maureen Barber-Carey, executive vice president at the Barber National Institute.

Tara has four children either with autism or a sensory disorder. She takes this very seriously.

“…quite the rule follower, so if you give him a set of rules, he’s real happy to follow them. And so that’s worked to my advantage. When I said the rule is we’re going to start wearing the mask 15 minutes a day, and now you’re going to wear your mask through your favorite show, or we’re going to read a book and you’re gonna wear the mask. You know, he was very happy if I gave him an increment of time he had to wear his mask, he was very happy to wear the mask,” said Tara.

Dr. Barber-Carey says try sing different masks with your child like ones without seams. You can even try getting your child involved and being creative and wear a fun mask with a pattern. Your child can even wear a face shield.

“You sit down with your child and the two of you pick out a pattern that your child would like to have on his mask. It maybe that he wants some superheroes. Maybe dogs are his favorite thing and you have a whole bunch of dogs and you can have a mask that has dogs on it. Let your child be in the driver’s seat to determine what the mask would look like,” said Dr. Barber-Carey.

If your child is nonverbal, one teaching assistant said starting at home is best.

“Start them at home. Talk to them. They understand everything we say, just because might be nonverbal, or not say a lot, or have a large vocabulary, doesn’t mean they don’t understand you. So definitely talk to their child whether it be sign language, iPad technology, however they communicate,” said Kathryn Fitzgerald, teaching assistant.

At the end of the day, work with your team and figure out what’s best.

“Know your kid and what you they can do safely. And make the best decisions for family that you can,” said Tara.

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