School or no school? Best Communication Tips for Mask Wearing!

I am not approaching this quandary as a parent, but as a Speech-Language Pathologist that has worked in schools with many children over the years.

Hot topic: School or No School? Right?!!

It's undoubtedly the question of the summer...and none of the answers make sense! 

I have been homeschooling for 17 years, this year is my youngest child’s 8th grade year and we were already planning to homeschool.

So,  I am not approaching this quandary as a parent, but as a Speech-Language Pathologist that has worked in schools with many children over the years.  

I’ve worked in both inner city schools, elite boarding schools and preschools with a diverse population of communication issues. 

Truth is that there is no best decision...there is no easy answer! 

The inequities of our education system are being illuminated and our most vulnerable populations are facing many barriers.  

Specifically, I’m addressing the students that receive special education accommodations that are at a disadvantage regarding not only their education but also their therapeutic services.  

I spent years sitting closely with children prompting them with phrases such as “look at my mouth” and “watch my lips.”  

My bag of tricks included, horns, straws, tongue depressors, bubbles, and a box of gloves for some of my work involved physically helping cue speech sounds.  

And these accomodations apply to all ages… for example, my oldest goes to Rochester Institute of Technology and one of it’s colleges is the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.  On campuses everywhere there are students that will be affected. 

So, what happens when we need to wear masks and physically distance...not just in therapy, but in school and daily living? 

Some of the ways that masks affect communication (American Speech & Hearing Association):    

  • Increased difficulty in understanding speech: Masks attenuate sound by 3–12 dB and also result in low-pass filtering of high-frequency sounds, making it more difficult to understand speech and some higher-pitched voices (Goldin et al., 2020). Listening to masked speech can be especially hard for people with hearing loss. 
  • Reduced discrimination of speech signal among competing noise: For example, reduced discrimination may occur in the presence of traffic or noisy yard work like lawn mowing. 
  • Reduced intelligibility of the wearer’s speech: Listeners may perceive speech as muffled or lower in volume. 
  • Loss of visual cues: Masks remove the ability to speech read and see facial expressions, which augment communication.
  • Increased difficulty of verbal communication: Speaking and understanding language while wearing a mask can be hard for people with communication problems like aphasia, voice problems, and autism. 
  • Reduced ability to provide appropriate cues to the client/student: Masks can reduce one’s ability to provide communication cues—for example, in the case of speech sound production. 
  • Noncompliance of mask wearing: Masks can be uncomfortable for young and school-aged children, and for people who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants. Noncompliance with mask use can also be an issue for those with cognitive or sensory deficits. 

So what can we do? 

  • masks with clear panels for everyone! (check out smile masks by rafi nova)
  • face shields (there are some really fun ones for kids….and adults! Check out
  • plexiglass or other clear barriers  (not ideal as it creates another sound barrier)
  • physical distancing (speech can be quieter because sound levels go down with distance and  focusing on speech from a distance is more difficult)
  • use of voice amplifiers 
  • use of family member/caregiver as model or extension of clinician’s hands  
  • use of videos or images for demonstration 

(It’s  important to note that there is no documented clinical evidence on how these modifications impact effectiveness of overall infection control processes used in clinical practice.)

What can teachers and staff do to support students while wearing masks?  (American Speech & Hearing Association) 

  • Make sure you have the attention of your client/student before you start talking.  
  • Face them directly, and make sure nothing is blocking your view. 
  • Speak slowly and slightly louder, but don’t shout or exaggerate your speech. 
  • Optimize hearing—confirm that those who use hearing aids or cochlear implants are wearing their devices or use a portable amplifier. Use your eyes, hands, and body language to add information to your speech. 
  • Provide visual references (e.g., printouts, notes, images) to accompany communication. 
  • Ask if they understood you—if they didn’t, rephrase it or write it down. 
  • Ask them to repeat important information to see whether they understood what you said. 
  • Reduce competing noise in the environment, if possible.  
  • If you’re talking with someone new, ask the person what you can do to make communication easier for both of you. 

~~~these are great tips for anyone communicating with anyone using masks because we don’t always know someone’s story 

All that said and I didn’t even touch on sensory issues or children on the autism spectrum….many that will not be able to tolerate a mask, or that require physical contact in order to help them regulate emotions…..

I see you mamas...trying to keep your shit together while all this craziness swirls around you!  Make sure you take time to take care of you!  

We talk radical self care in resilientAF midlife mamas over on Facebook….come on over! 

Categories: speech language pathology, communication