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By Ruth Swartwood, Fraser Clinical Site Manager • sensory sensitivities and masks, wearing a mask with sensory issues, helping people with sensory issues wear a mask, occupational therapy for sensory processing disorder, therapy for sensory processing issues, help for sensory processing difficulties • August 20, 2020

The face mask has become a staple of life during the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC recommends people wear face masks to protect others and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The State of Minnesota has also issued a mask mandate that requires all people in Minnesota to “wear a face covering in all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces, unless alone.”

However, some people find masks difficult to wear.

People who have sensory sensitivities can find lights are too bright, the hum of a refrigerator is too loud, the seam of a pair of pants is too itchy and the earloops of a surgical mask are too constricting to wear for extended periods of time.

If you or your child finds mask-wearing difficult, here are some ideas that may help:

1. Change the type of mask

There are a variety of mask options on the market now. Changing the type of mask you select may make wearing it more tolerable. Here are a few options:

  • Tube-style masks or neck gaiters can be worn around your neck when a mask isn’t needed. These don’t need to go on your ears.
  • Headband masks attach to a headband rather than your ears.
  • Headloop masks wrap around your head and are adjustable. These don’t rest on your ears.

2. Find a fun mask

Along with the different shapes of masks, there are also a variety of designs. If your child loves Spiderman, you can buy him or her a Spiderman face covering. You can find masks with favorite sayings or even a mask with a smile printed on it. Finding a face covering that you think is fun or beautiful may make you more enthusiastic about putting it on.

3. Wear the mask for increasing periods of time

After finding the right mask for you or your child, try it on at home and wear it for a short period. Then gradually increase wearing time. Consider including a reward for successfully keeping the mask in place for a length of time; for example, enjoy a bowl of ice cream or dance to a favorite song together. Though a mask might not be immediately comfortable, your body may learn to adjust as you wear it for more time.

4. Reach out to professional

An occupational therapist (OT) can help individuals with sensory sensitivities find ways to relieve the discomfort they experience from clothes, lights, sounds or pressure. You may find it helpful to consult with an OT about you or your child’s difficulty wearing a mask. These professionals can also help you identify strategies to support wearing a mask, like deep pressure input or creating a sensory diet.

Contact a Fraser occupational therapist by calling 612-767-7222.

Masks may not work for everyone

While wearing masks is crucial for public health, some people may not be able to wear one. For individuals who can’t tolerate wearing a mask, the CDC has some safety guidelines that don’t include a face covering. However, with or without a mask, it’s important to wash your hands properly, maintain social distancing and wipe down frequently touched items.

If you are unable to wear a mask, you may need to spend more time at home. Don’t be afraid to lean on a friend or loved one to help run errands for you. By supporting each other, we will get through this together.