We asked our autistic colleagues for some tips about wearing masks and what they have found helpful.
Prepare and practise
- Adjust to wearing a mask by starting off with fun things – science experiments, cooking or just as a game. Look at some fictional or computer game characters who wear masks.
- Try wearing a few different types of masks or face coverings before you have to wear one for real, and practise wearing one and “building up” your tolerance. There are different shapes and types of material and you might find some more comfortable than others. Cloth masks may be better than paper ones and have “edging” that is softer and may be more tolerable.
- Put your mask in your pocket/bag/purse at the start of the day, or place it somewhere obvious so you don’t forget to take it with you. Make it a familiar and comfortable item rather than something awkward and different.
- Spray your mask with your favourite scent (if you have one) to distract from any unpleasant or unfamiliar smells it might have. Alternatively keep it outside for a few days or wash it with you normal detergent so it gets any synthetic smells out.
- Before you wear it for the first time rub the mask on your face so you can get used to the texture of the material on your skin.
- If you’re going shopping, make sure you have a list of everything you want before you to go the shop, and if possible where it is in the store, to help the trip be as short as possible.
Reducing anxiety about wearing a face covering
- Limit the amount of time you spend wearing it and do it only when it’s totally necessary. Try to visit shops at quieter times of the day so you’ll spend less time in the shop and less time having to wear the mask.
- Put your headphones on and listen to your favourite music or sounds while you shop.
- Carry your I Am Autistic card in your purse/wallet in case you have to take the mask off or can’t wear one and need help explaining why.
- Read the ‘Mask Legislation’ information sheet so you know what the law is about wearing a mask.That way if you need to take the mask off at any point you can explain to people that you are exempt from the rules.
- If you are not wearing a mask then let a trusted person know you are going to the shops and arrange for them to call you while you are in the shop – if everything is fine you can reject the call but if someone is challenging you or you are becoming overwhelmed then you can answer it and they can support you verbally.
- Try to remind yourself that by not wearing a mask as an autistic person you are still following the rules; the exemptions are there for a reason.
Coping with the sensory aspects of wearing the mask
- If you can, buy a silicon mask bracket, this goes over your mouth and nose before the mask to hold the fabric further away from your mouth to make talking/breathing a bit easier.
- You may never have noticed the smell of your breath before but any smells from your mouth will be intensified by wearing a mask. Keep good oral hygiene and brush your teeth before you go out.
- You may need to put a scent free non-greasy moisturiser on the areas of your face that the mask touches. This acts as a slight “tactile” barrier, but will depend of course on your ability to tolerate moisturisers on your skin.
- If you cannot tolerate a mask, consider wearing a face shield when in enclosed places like shops. These are now available quite cheaply online. This would give you a greater degree of confidence to go into shops as shielding has now been paused.
- Use all the things that you use the rest of the time to reduce anxiety when wearing your face covering. Things like counting, stimming in a way you’re comfortable, or distracting yourself can help.
If you can’t wear a mask remember…
- There will be perhaps a lot of other people not wearing masks for various reasons – you will not be alone. As an autistic person, not wearing a mask still means you are following the rules – the Government has included exemptions for a good reason.
- You might also find that you are able to wear a mask some days when you feel more calm, but cannot on other days when you feel more anxious. This is absolutely fine and you can still rely on the exemptions when you need to.
- If you are challenged for not wearing a mask, try and stay calm – you can use our resources to explain that you are exempt from the rules and do not need to wear a mask
- And remember – there may also be other people not wearing masks for a variety of reasons. Try and be considerate of their needs too and remember you won’t always be able to tell why someone isn’t wearing a mask.
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