“Mukendi and I started noticing that, around six o’clock every evening, Brice would become ritualistic. He would pick up a pillow and tap on it, and then he would have a tantrum. He‘s always been ritualistic in behavior, and often fixates on an item or activity, but we had never seen these ritualistic temper tantrums. The first time in happened, we thought he might have been having a bad day. But then it started happening every day.
We realized these tantrums could be a result of him feeling confined at home. I was trying to figure out the best way to safely take him outdoors because I knew he had been inside for a very long time. Brice likes going to the supermarket, where he touches things a lot. But what if I take him there and he removes his mask and also wants to touch the items?
We live near a pond, so I decided we would take a 15-minute walk around it. This way he isn’t touching anything and we can take a route where there’s hardly anyone around, where we would be safe.
Brice knows when you tell him to put his shoes on that he’s going outside. That day, his smile was so huge; it was a smile that was up in the air.
He’s nonverbal, and sometimes gestures speak louder than words. So I started by wearing the mask myself, almost to say, “Look! I’m doing it too. It’s not just you.” I was hoping to reassure him that it was okay to wear the mask and gloves. I put his mask on, looping it behind his ears. As soon as I gave him the gloves, he put them on really fast by himself. He opened the door before I could even get to it!
On the street, he was walking fast and looking left and right. He was so enjoying the moment. When I was taking the photos, he was loving it. We found a rock near the pond and both sat down. He sat there quietly, gazing around. He was really happy to feel nature. It seemed as if he was embracing it – looking at the trees and sky and the ducks and the water. It felt like he just needed to be outside. He was delighted. It was a “finally, I’m breathing fresh air!” moment.
Brice surprised me that day. He didn’t touch the mask unless I prompted him to. When I didn’t see people around us, I would let him take it down to take a breather. If someone was approaching, I would ask him to put the mask higher. I really thought that he was not going to keep the mask on; that he would rip it off. Perhaps with me having on a mask and him seeing people wearing them, he kept it on.
We stayed nearly 40 minutes. I feel like the time was enough for him. He was really happy and everything went smoothly. We had a great moment. I planned to try to do it again – we did. We’ve gone walking many times since then.”
Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA, Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, Mass., offers guidelines to help children with autism tolerate wearing a mask. Read the article here: https://bit.ly/2ROcjAP