Henley Middle School adopts innovative ways to encourage mask use for special needs students

Henley Middle School in Albemarle County
Henley Middle School in Albemarle County(wvir)
Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 6:50 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Mask use and practicing social distancing can be tough for children to understand. If they have special needs, often it’s more challenging.

The Virginia Institute of Autism and Albemarle County Public Schools are partners in incentivizing mask wearing for students with heightened sensory responses.

Billy Gorman, a parent of a child with special needs, has advice for others to help in the process.

“Wearing a mask for a kid like Desmond or Desi as he goes by, is another challenge for him. He has his own challenges being special needs,” Gorman said.

Desi is a Henley Middle schooler. His teacher Ms. Evancho is one of many people working to help students tolerate mask wearing.

“At school we are using if then language to help kids reinforce wearing the masks,” Evancho said.

For example, if a student wears a mask as required, then they will be rewarded with tablet time or allowed to go outdoors.

“We’ve seen students who have communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and that can make the skill of wearing a mask very difficult,” said Megan Atthowe, a behavioral analyst with Albemarle County Public Schools.

The Virginia Institute of Autism and Albemarle County Public Schools use what they call the three P’s: Patience, Persistence, and Positivity.

“We start where the student is, so if they’re currently successful with just tolerating it on the table, great. Then we will work up to them eventually having it on their face,” VIA Director Shonnet Brand said.

ACPS, The Virginia Institute of Autism, and parents like Desi’s dad encourage caregivers to explain why mask wearing is important, making for a seamless back to school transition.

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