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Health & Fit My son has autism spectrum disorder. As mask mandates go away, his diagnosis is being used against us.

00:25  25 march  2022
00:25  25 march  2022 Source:   insider.com

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My son will be staying home until he can attend public school in the fall. Vera Livchak/Getty Images © Provided by INSIDER My son will be staying home until he can attend public school in the fall. Vera Livchak/Getty Images
  • My son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in December.
  • He was attending a private school that was great about masking, but that quickly changed.
  • My family will continue masking to protect those, like my son, who cannot get vaccinated yet.

In December we learned that our child had borderline autism spectrum disorder and needed support with his speech. He was already enrolled in a private preschool, which we chose because it required both children and adults to wear masks.

At first I was proud of our preschool's efforts when it came to COVID-19 risk mitigation. My family felt safe, protected, and heard.

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Then our son's teachers began using his ASD as an excuse for mask removal for the entire class, suggesting he needed to see his classmates' faces in order to obtain certain social skills. They said this even though he regularly talks about his friends at school and we had frequent outdoor playdates with classmates.

My child has no issues with mask-wearing despite his diagnosis, but if he did, I'd still want his peers and teachers to wear masks since none of his classmates are old enough for vaccination.

For his safety and the safety of his peers, we've decided to keep him home until he can get vaccinated and attend public school.

A teacher's opposition to masking made our decision clear

After keeping him out of school for the first half of January because of Omicron, we sent our son back wearing a KF94.

During a committee meeting in early 2022, the school director began pushing the topic of mask removal with arguments about "mental health" and "social-emotional learning" for preschoolers, specifically for kids on the spectrum. Kids like mine.

Using tools like masks may benefit my child's speech development in the long term by keeping COVID-19 rates down, making it safer for him to spend time with his peers and teachers unmasked.

Many children on the spectrum struggle with transitions in their daily routine, and many also need speech-therapy specialists in the classroom with them. Once my child and his classmates are fully vaccinated, I will feel more than comfortable removing masks from our daily lives.

My son's teacher argued in a private email shortly after the committee meeting that we were creating more social and emotional barriers for my son in the classroom by having him wear a mask and that his getting COVID-19 should be the least of our concerns when it comes to his health. Her words made me feel isolated and alone.

The meeting had ended with a resolution to gradually scale down masking once the school had installed new HEPA filters. I felt this was a reasonable option. Later that night, however, my son's teacher sent a message announcing her resignation unless mask requirements were removed completely. She argued that N95s hurt her head and were unnecessary since "masks don't work."

We withdrew our son immediately.

The school director sent us an apologetic email, saying: "Had the teacher not resigned, I can assure you that there would have been disciplinary action due to this behavior. I'm sorry for the hurt that this has caused your family and I wish only the best for you in the future."

When reached for comment on this story, a representative from the school said, "Some aspects of mitigating the risk of anyone contracting COVID-19 like universal mask wearing can, at times, interfere with the developmental goals of our school for the child."

As soon as my son can get vaccinated — hopefully by the fall — we will send him to public preschool. He will have a full team of specialists to help with his needs, and he and his peers will be better protected from the virus.

For now, we will wear masks in public indoor spaces, have outdoor playdates with friends and family, and try to stay hopeful. It's both the most and the least we can do.

Wolf Terry (she/her/hers) is a retired E-RYT and a writer known for her science communication, education, and vaccine advocacy within the wellness and yoga industry. She lives in Denver with her family.

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