Tolerating Face Masks

Some places require face masks to be worn. Some people can't tolerate face masks, and legitimately, in line with local government rules, are exempt. But, there are many cases where not wearing a face mask has resulted in people being made to feel uncomfortable, including other people staring, pointing, commenting and in extreme cases verbal abuse. For this reason there are various badges and tops saying variants of 'Face Mask Exempt' (search on-line 'Face Mask Exempt Badges' in Images for examples), but these also make a very public statement that your child has a hidden disability, which they may not feel comfortable with.

There are two main types of face covering:

  • Surgical standard face coverings, for medical professionals
  • Everything else

Everything else includes the many different styles and types of masks and scarves that are widely available. Key is that both the nose and mouth are fully covered, so the mask ideally extends to under the chin.

The reasons face masks are not well tolerated, especially by some children, include:

  • 1. The feel and pressure on the face, an extremely sensitive area, especially for anyone with any type of visual impairment.
  • 2. The smell, which is right up against the nose
  • 3. The effect on breathing, which can leave a person feeling panicky
  • 4. The difficulty with wearing glasses, due to fogging
  • 5. The top of the mask being in the lower peripheral vision causing a distraction

Here are some suggestions to help with this:

  • Try a range of face coverings, not just the clinical style ones, even try making them yourself for your child from one of your own old t-shirts. This way the mask will be a connection with you.
  • Wash the face covering in your usual detergent before using for the first time (if not a disposable type), so the smell is familiar.
  • Once the most comfortable style of face covering has been decided, practice wearing it at home, to start with just covering their mouth but not their nose. This is to get used to the feeling on the face without the combined challenges of the smell and breathing.
  • Then, at home where the child knows they can take it off whenever they wish, have short periods of the face covering the nose, mouth and chin, maybe doing something the child enjoys like a favourite television programme or computer came.
  • Slowly, get used to the smell and breathing.
  • Encourage your child to take some calming deep breadths if they become a bit panicky, and remove the mask, then try again when they are ready, which may be another day.
  • Don't rush it, and ensure your child knows they are in control.
  • When wearing the face mask for the first time somewhere compulsory, go somewhere that can be exited very quickly if needed, and slowly build it up.

When any new regular pressure is applied to any part of the body, but especially the face, your systems of attention need time to get used to it - this is called an adaptation process. People who wear spectacles or sunglasses regularly often can't feel them because the sensation had been 'calibrated-out'. Anything new needs time. If a face covering is used and it is stressful, then a negative association can be created making the calibration process more difficult.

Your child may not be able to tolerate a mask, many can't.

The decisions are not easy and the options are far from ideal.

You need to balance up the pros and cons and together decide what is best for your child, which might be avoiding places, as we say, the options are far from ideal.

Please note, there are many different news reports about different styles and qualities of face covering used by the general public, including how many layers they should have, how often they should be washed, with and without filters, maximum time they should be worn for etc. The suggestions on this page are based on face covering needed to cover the nose, mouth and chin when out and about, please review local guidelines for further and area specific information and advice.


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At CVI Scotland we are devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards developing the understanding of this complex condition.