By Sherry Neal, RN-BC, CDDN
Although people might be getting a little weary of hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still a very real issue and we need to remain highly vigilant. That includes wearing protective equipment when appropriate. When should masks be worn and how do you safely put them on and off? The World Health Organization (WHO) offers simplistic and helpful demonstrations and explanations regarding masks.
It is difficult for many people to wear these articles. If a person wears glasses and the mask is not put on appropriately, it steams them up. Or, the mask slips down on the face and it must be retied or adjusted. It could just feel very odd so that people are constantly trying to adjust it for comfort. Maybe the person is claustrophobic and has a feeling of suffocation if they can’t breathe in fresh air. What if the person with I/DD is fabric-sensitive, smell or touch sensitive? What if they are simply noncompliant? These are challenges that support persons are dealing with every day.
Here are a few things you can try:
1) Try putting masks on stuffed animals. Let the person put the mask on the toy and then apply their own mask or allow staff to apply it. The support person may have to put it on the stuffed animal. Leave it on the animal for a while so that they can see it isn’t bothered by wearing a mask. It may take several times of putting the mask on the stuffed animal before the person will allow a support person to put a mask on their face or put the mask on their own face.
2) If fabric masks are being used, have several pieces of fabric options and allow the person to choose what they want. Try to have different textures, colors and prints available. Select elastic that is not too tight so that it won’t hurt their ears. If elastic is not available, use large hair ties. The fluffy hair ties that are elastic may be used, too. Try masks with no elastic but instead have simple ties that go around the head. Again, allow them to select the elastic or ties.
3) Let them have a mask to carry around and hold and feel. Let the person try it on and take it off. It doesn’t matter if they destroy it, give them another type to play with and see if there is more success with it. Slowly try to desensitize. Let them wear a mask for ten seconds, then take it off. You may even have to start with a shorter time and add a second or two each time you put the mask on them. You can even make an activity out of it. “Mask time” is when everyone can demonstrate putting on and taking off a mask appropriately. You may try a reward system after they wear the mask for a while such as picking a special treat, a trip to the park, FaceTiming with family (make sure they have the mask on and give the person a lot of praise) or simply spending 1:1 time with their favorite staff.
4) Let them personalize their mask. Again, allow them to select the fabric. If using disposable masks give them a Sharpie® and let them draw on the mask and make it theirs. Provide different stencils that the support persons can help them with, such as cars, butterflies or action figures. Find pictures in magazines and hot glue to the mask. (Be very careful if you are using a hot glue gun near the person! Not only the glue gun, but the hot glue itself can burn the person.) Allow them to make two masks so they can choose which one to wear. This can also be done on a fabric mask, but if drawing, they are stuck with only one or two drawings.
5) The support person can also go to a party supply store, or again use a stencil, and get some crazy big glasses. Hot glue the mask to the glasses making sure the glasses won’t interfere with the fit. This can be done with cloth or disposable masks. If the glasses interfere too much with the fit, make some using a stencil and heavy construction paper. The person can select how they want their glasses to look and again they personalize with drawings or pictures. Be mindful the the glasses do not obscure the person’s vision.
6) The staff can have a “Western” time. Everyone puts on a cowboy hat and has a bandana. Watch old Westerns where many of the characters wear a bandana mask. Allow the person to try a simple bandana mask. This is much better than wearing nothing. (I would suggest you avoid The Lone Ranger TV series, because the main character only wears a mask that covers the eyes and obviously that would not be effective against COVID-19.)
Suggested Old Western Series:
b. Roy Rogers
d. Hop Along Cassidy
e. The Rifleman
f. Wagon Train
The shows can often be found on ME TV or H and I TV channels. If you find some that are appropriate, DVR them and you will always have something to watch.
I hope this gives you some suggestions that might not have been tried. Even if all the people in support have no problem with masks, most of these suggestions can still be used to personalize their masks. All any of us can do is hope this nasty virus leaves us soon!