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July 24, 2020

Masks: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution

By By Tara Payor, Ph.D.

Dorothy Law Nolte expressed, “If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.” Making children feel secure is of the utmost importance before, during and after a pandemic. If parents undercut kids’ sense of security through negative talk in kids’ presence, there’s a risk in raising children who live in an unproductive cycle of conspiracy theories. At this unparalleled timepoint, parents are tasked with helping children understand that “those about them” are making decisions with everyone’s health in mind. With security as the scaffold, created by parents, community leaders, medical professionals and teachers, kids are better positioned for transition from surviving a pandemic to thriving well beyond its endpoint. 

Masked. Not forgotten. 

Reality: Masks are, for now, a fabric of life. Focusing energy on helping children realize their full potential, while masked, is wise. Doing that, smaller populations of kids—ones with exceptionalities that make them more susceptible to marginalization—can’t be forgotten. Ramona, whose 7-year-old son wears hearing aids, notes: “Asking him to advocate for himself all day is a tall order.” Hard-of-hearing children often rely on lip reading—impossible with masks. Ramona is concerned that hearing-impaired kids may not even know who is speaking: “I want the school to be a safe environment. I’m simultaneously concerned about how masking, with my son’s unique situation, may negatively affect both his learning and social development.” Intentionally supporting her son’s sense of security, Ramona encourages him to let adults know if he cannot hear. She’s hopeful the school district will demonstrate flexibility in masking policies. “The masks can get tangled in his hearing aids, and my worst fear is tangles leading to hearing aids falling out and getting damaged.” Cultivating security entails empathy. Consider things like, “what if my child missed large chunks of a lesson? Even as an adult, am I always able to advocate for myself?”

The School District of Hillsborough County accounts for students who need accommodations and exempts masking when (a) instruction is impeded by mask wearing and (b) if hearing impaired people are involved. The American Academy of Pediatrics articulates that “special considerations and accommodations…account…for our vulnerable populations…with the goal of safe return to school.” Parents are called to help children feel secure as they embark on an academic year unlike any other. It’s achievable, in part, by assuring kids that all adults have the primary goal kids’ well-being in learning environments. 

Masked. For Greater Good. 

Theresa, whose son was born hearing-impaired, underscores the need to instill a sense of security in both children and communities. “The shared goal begs understanding—safe, happy kids. Wearing a mask is an act of community service—just like stopping at a stop sign and getting to school on time.” It’s unlikely anyone is excited to mask, but adults can help kids feel good about it through positive, open conversations. When Theresa’s 6-year-old shares his feelings about masking and how it makes hearing even more challenging, she replies, “It’s hard. This is a challenge you will overcome.” Theresa taught self-advocacy early on, as people often interpret some hearing-impaired behaviors as lazy and distracted. As a mother, she’s also concerned with how masking may impact peer interactions. Ultimately, regardless of the accommodations available, she’s promoting mask wearing. “If face shields and masks with a clear mouth portion are options, it will help.” The health of all school community members is one of Theresa’s primary concerns and, she’s partnering with another mom to amplify the voices of kids with special needs within the context of COVID 19. 

Masked. Always Adaptable. 

While working on my Ph.D., I learned about adaptive expertise—being flexible in applying knowledge to novel situations. Sometimes, resistance is unproductive. I believe we have an opportunity for leaning into adaptability through pooling our knowledge bases, as parents, community leaders, medical professionals and teachers, with a shared, driving goal: a safe journey into one of life’s greatest adventures—an education. 

Masked & Secure 

  • Encourage masking by having kids make their own. Alternatively, use on-hand supplies to embellish masks. Do consider mask integrity and limiting distractions in the classroom setting.  
  • Since masking gets hands near the face, build excitement around washing reward stamps off hands before getting another stamp. 
  • Talk to kids about the benefits of being back in the classroom when proper guidelines are followed (like desks three to six feet apart and not facing each other). 

maskPayor was inspired by her own son’s story:

Hendrix, 5, with all of his gear. He was born with a congenital cataract and had surgery at 2 weeks old to remove the lens of his left eye. So, he wears a contact lens in the left eye and has to patch the right eye so that his left eye doesn’t become lazy. The plan was always to have surgery this summer so that a permanent lens could be put in. It would greatly improve quality of life for him. However, surgery has been put on hold due to the pandemic.


 

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