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By Master Trainer Lisa LaMela

I’m willing to bet you’ve heard, and thought about, and talked about “CDC recommendations” more in the last 5 months than in the last 3 (or 30?) years combined. If you’re like me, you’ve even lost a little sleep contemplating how to follow these recommendations, and what they mean for you and your loved ones. 

One such recommendation is for the use of cloth face covers.  Messaging around whether face masks were necessary, safe and/or appropriate, to be worn by the general public changed a few months back.  In the early days of coronavirus, I remember the news actually telling me not to wear a mask. When that messaging changed, at least where I live here in Pennsylvania back in mid-April, I was confused, but also intuitively relieved.  If our goal is to stop the spread of this illness-causing virus that travels through our noses and mouths, doesn’t a barrier between one’s nose/mouth and the air breathed by others make sense? 

It felt weird at first.  It was stuffy and hot and my sunglasses kept fogging up.  Another widely publicized, took-some-practice-for-me, recommendation for slowing virus spread: “don’t touch your face” felt nearly impossible when I started wearing a face mask in public.  But over the last month+, I’ve come to accept this new accessory as just another part of our “new normal.”  But if this much practice, adjustment, and effort is necessary for me as an adult, imagine it from a child’s perspective. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice is for children 2 years and older to wear cloth face coverings when in public settings.  The whole idea is to help prevent people, including children, who may be infected, but not know it, (a bit on asymptomatic spread here) from transmitting the virus.  A few months back, a colleague of mine wrote about improving hand-washing and cleanliness habits, which seemed like a daunting enough task in the midst of a global health crisis.  In the same vein, my goal now is to provide you with some practical steps to help make the practice of wearing masks easier for your little ones.

Make Sure It Fits

Adult size masks won’t work on those little faces.  Masks should fit snuggly, cover the nose, mouth, and chin, and shouldn’t have gaps or openings on the top, bottom, or sides.  An ill-fitting mask will be more tempting to touch and readjust, which means less protection! Remember that the goal here is to keep from touching once it’s on, period.  Many who are producing masks make them in children’s sizes (you can check them out on sites like Etsy, or 15 retailers recommended here), or you could make your own.  It may take some trial and error to get the right fit, but once you do it’ll be safer for everyone.


We can help to normalize wearing face masks by doing it ourselves for our kids to see.  For some children, having something on the face can seem weird or scary.  As our children’s role models, we can show them it that it’s no big deal through or own actions.  If we make it seem terrible/uncomfortable/like such a burden, it will be.  But if we model that it’s no big deal, it’ll be more likely that our kids share our opinion. 

Practice at Home

You’ve heard this before, and you’ll hear it again, if you don’t have to go out it’s usually best to stay at home.  However, when our little ones do need to be in public spaces, for example if you need to bring the kids along on a grocery run or other essential errand, in many parts of the country that signals that it’s time to mask-up.  We can make this feel easier if it’s something we’ve already practiced.  Explaining the “rules” (e.g. no touching), and practice, practice, practice!

Keep Those Hands Busy

It’s one thing to simply explain that we shouldn’t touch our masks and faces.  It’s another to make it less likely, or less possible!  (For you Safety-Care users out there, think incompatible behaviors and differential reinforcement).  While practicing wearing a mask, it can be a good idea to give children something else to do.  If they’re sitting idly, thinking about this new, funny thing on their face, they’ll probably be tempted to touch it, play with it, take it off, etc.  But if they’re occupied, all that becomes less likely. For some additional mask-practice, pop it on while coloring, holding onto the ropes of a backyard swing, or flipping the pages of a favorite book!  Occupy those hands!


And with all this practice, don’t forget the rewards! Rewarding that proper mask-wearing-behavior can help to establish safe, healthy habits.  I mean, what kind of behavior analyst would I be if I didn’t talk about the power of positive reinforcement!?  Remember, providing access to the good stuff after the behaviors that we want to see will make it way more likely that we continue seeing those desired behaviors in the future! 

So consider having your child(ren) “work toward” something they love.  Think “if you _____, you’ll get ____” type incentives.  Start small and gradually build up the time you’re expecting the mask to be worn.  Just make sure to follow up on those rewards that you’ve promised!  If we say “you’ll earn fruit snacks” and then forget to give the fruit snacks, this’ll never work. 

Make It Fun

Incorporating activities and play themes that your child already likes into the world of face mask wearing can help to keep it light and fun.   If you have a budding artist on your hands, consider decorating masks with fabric paint or stickers!  If your child has a favorite stuffed animal, maybe stuffy gets a mask of its own, or perhaps Barbie and Ken put on their masks before jumping in the convertible. Make it fun by pairing the mask theme with things your child already enjoys.    

It’s hard to know what the future holds.  In my area, and cities and towns across the country, plans are underway to open schools back up in the fall.  At the same time, alternative plans are under development in case reopening schools isn’t a safe option come fall.  Whatever happens, it does seem likely that masks will continue to be a part of day-to-day for the time being, especially as restrictions continue to lift and more business reopen.  As long as children are expected to cover their faces it’ll be up to many of you parents and professionals out there to support and encourage their proper use. 

There is a lot that we can do to stop the spread of the novel Coronavirus, such as wearing a mask, limiting touching of the face, and frequent handwashing or hand-sanitizing. As organizations start to open back up, the need for staff to follow precaution guidelines may be critical for the safety of your employees and individuals served. Handwashing is an easy, cost-effective way to stop the spread of germs, resulting in limited infection. But how can we increase staff handwashing behavior?

The following are some easy, cost-effective, time-effective, and research-based interventions to help your staff stay safe by washing their hands more frequently.

Increasing the frequency of handwashing behavior for your staff may be crucial to keep everyone safe as your organization gets used to the “new normal”. The previously mentioned research can be easily adapted to any setting, in a manner that will not break the bank and does not take much time out of the supervisor’s busy days.

Wash your hands. Your hands carry germs you can't see.

Here’s some ideas:

  1. Organize the environment to maximize handwashing by decreasing the effort required to complete the task. This can be done by having employees work closer to a sink or having hand-sanitizers readily available and close by.
  2. Giving your staff feedback on their handwashing is another great way to increase this behavior. For example: “Sara thank you for washing your hands, that’s really helpful to stop the spread of germs.” Or “Jim please remember to wash your hands when coming in from outside”. Make sure your feedback is specifically about handwashing and immediate.
  3. Educate your staff about the importance of handwashing. You can show your staff a fun video about how germs spread, give them a handout on how handwashing can help, or just a discussion about when and how often they should wash their hands.
  4. Finally, and possibly the easiest intervention is to put up reminders for staff to wash their hands. Remember that you can make these fun to really catch the attention of your staff.

Check out some of our other blog posts: How Do I Stop Touching My Face? and Increase Staff & Client Cleanliness using Behavioral Analysis.


Casella, S.E., Wilder, D.A., Neidert, P., Rey, C., Compton, M. and Chong, I. (2010), THE EFFECTS OF RESPONSE EFFORT ON SAFE PERFORMANCE BY THERAPISTS AT AN AUTISM TREATMENT FACILITY. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43: 729-734. doi:10.1901/jaba.2010.43-729

Choi, B., Lee, K., Moon, K. and Oah, S. (2018), A comparison of prompts and feedback for promoting handwashing in university restrooms. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 51: 667-674. doi:10.1002/jaba.467

Finney, J.W., Miller, K.M. and Adler, S.P. (1993), CHANGING PROTECTIVE AND RISKY BEHAVIORS TO PREVENT CHILD‐TO‐PARENT TRANSMISSION OF CYTOMEGALOVIRUS. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26: 471-472. doi:10.1901/jaba.1993.26-471

Luke, M.M. and Alavosius, M. (2011), ADHERENCE WITH UNIVERSAL PRECAUTIONS AFTER IMMEDIATE, PERSONALIZED PERFORMANCE FEEDBACK. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44: 967-971. doi:10.1901/jaba.2011.44-967

I’ll Take the Corona…..You Can Keep the Virus

Wine, chocolate, junk food, yoga, running, meditation; whatever you need to de-stress….it’ll become your best friend if it isn’t already. As an Autism mom, I can easily handle a snow day. Maybe even two in a row. I’m not a rookie.  No problem. I get through the day and then reach for the chocolate (which happens to be my poison of choice).

Don’t misunderstand, having a child on the spectrum isn’t always chaos.  But during the good, stable times, it is still time-consuming and exhausting, nonetheless. Prompts, redirection, help with homework and don’t forget it takes so much longer to complete daily tasks and life skills because I include him and teach him every day.  This is our norm and I love it.  I love watching him beam with pride because he remembered to put everything in the mac and cheese. But after working all day, yes, it can be a lot. 

So, throw a pandemic at us, why don’t you? At least with vacations, etc. we know the return date.  Let’s face it, no one has a clue. When we know what to expect, we have time to adjust the routine. Right now, we are told April 7, but other cities are closed until May.  Listening to the news last night, some mayors wouldn’t be surprised if schools didn’t re-open at all and finished out the year with distance learning.  Oh, that’ll be fun. 

Routines are Helpful

We survived day one of no school unscathed.  I did let him sleep in (He is 15. Teens sleep). I’m trying to keep his day closely aligned with a school day or week. He got dressed and ate breakfast right away, like normal.  Let’s face it. If I tell him to sit and do work when he doesn’t have to….not happening. 

Thankfully, my son is very inquisitive. Always has questions to things I have no clue about.  He watched Animal Planet and there was a show about a St. Bernard.  I told him to google St. Bernard and find out more about this breed.  He did.  Well, now I’m onto something.  Next up, the History Channel.  Then, Google.  Phew.  He hasn’t caught on yet that I’m trying to keep him in a school routine, keep him off of electronics, etc.  I’ll add in projects and crafts and practicing soccer skills outside as time goes on.  In his class, they earn points through the week to watch a movie on Friday afternoons. So, we implemented that system at home, too.

Stay Strong, Parents

There’s nothing we can do and this is out of our control.  Cancelling school was absolutely in the best interest of the public.  We are the parents, we know our children.  We are their comfort, their support, their safety.  We’ve handled transitions before….granted, not for this long. Chocolate, please….STAT!

Stay tuned for scenes from the next episode……

Read more of Ellen's Living the Puzzle Blogs: Back to School and Autism Awareness from a Parent's Perspective. You can learn more about the Autism Spectrum here.

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