Packing up all your possessions, loading the truck, making payments, and transitioning to a new, unfamiliar place, can take a massive mental toll. While most adults can handle this stress in stride, it can be distressing for children and overwhelming for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Thankfully, there are ways you can reduce the stress of an upcoming move for your child and make the process easier for the whole family. This guide will go over the primary ways you can plan and structure your move to accommodate your child’s needs.
Before diving in, we want to mention up-front that this article is not a substitute for medical or psychological advice. Autism is a developmental condition, and each child’s needs are unique. There is, sadly, no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with stressful situations like moving.
Get Professional Advice From Your Child’s Primary Care Provider and Psychiatrist
Autism is complex, and no one child’s triggers and sensory preferences are the same. This guide will provide general information and advice to consider when moving, but no one knows your kid’s needs better than you and your little one’s doctors.
The first thing you should do before any move, and even before discussing the move with your child, is to speak to their primary care provider or psychiatrist. These professionals will know your child’s specific needs well and will be able to best advise you on how to help ease your child through this challenging transition.
The Importance of Maintaining Your Child’s Routine
A stable routine, consistent schedule, and familiar environment are essential for children with autism to deal with the stressors of daily life. Parents of children with autism know how invaluable maintaining this routine is and how distressing new and unfamiliar environments can be. Keep this in mind when planning and implementing your move. Try to do everything you can to keep your child’s routine intact and not let the chaotic minutiae of the move interfere with their schedule.
Steps To Take Before the Move
The earliest stages of relocating can be the most important, both for the logistics of the move itself and for helping your child prepare for the changes to come. Children with autism can take time to adapt to their schedule changes and may show resistance. Preparation, patience, and understanding are essential at this stage.
Discuss the Move Early
Discussing the move openly and early is vital to giving your child the time they need to acclimate to the upcoming changes. When talking with your child about the move, explain why you’re moving, emphasizing the positive aspects of the new home. If your new home has any immediately visible benefits, like larger rooms or closer proximity to family, these can be great talking points to guide early conversations.
Another critical element to these early talks is reminding your child what will remain the same during the move. Make sure they understand that a new home won’t mean a change of routine and that they will still have the same possessions and furniture.
If your child is having a hard time understanding the move, communication techniques like social stories can be a great way to convey important elements.
Focus On Positive Reinforcement
It can be difficult for children with special needs to adapt to new situations and take on additional stresses. To help your child, focus on positive reinforcement and praise when they go out of their way to address and overcome these issues. Try rewarding them with verbal praise, their favorite meals, stickers, or more relaxation time.
Additionally, you should consider reducing their responsibilities if they have difficulty dealing with tasks or chores. You can also help them by giving them more breaks or time to relax and decompress.
Use Visual Aids To Help Them Understand Their New Space
Visual aids, such as pictures or a walkthrough of the new house, can help your child better understand their new space. While going over the new home, explain where the furniture will go (using the same layout if necessary). It’s best to prioritize their comfort zones first and foremost, such as their new room and favorite places to eat.
Create a Detailed Calendar
Moving will change just about every aspect of the home. These changes can be distressing for your child, so taking proper steps to prepare them is essential. You can create a detailed calendar that lists each step of the move. Be sure to consider the following when creating this calendar:
- Specify what days each room will be packed.
- Detail how much time per day will be dedicated to cleaning and packing.
- Include what specific times per day cleaning and packing will be taking place.
- Use visual aids in the calendar to create a visual schedule, to better understand the day’s events.
- Go over each day’s events with your child, explaining what will happen.
- Clearly mark main events like bedtimes, mealtimes, break times, etc.
- If your child is helping with the move, add their tasks and tasks times while ensuring no interference with their routine.
Let Your Child Help at Their Own Pace
Your child may want to help with the move, and allowing them to participate may help reduce their stress. If your child is interested in helping with the moving process, be sure to give them manageable tasks like labeling boxes or taking part in the packing process. Packing their own possessions can be particularly helpful, as they will know where their stuff is throughout the move.
Some children may not want to be involved in the move, and that’s OK. If your child is resistant to participating in the move, let them know that they don’t have to help. Work around their routines as much as possible, and pack their belongings last so they can keep their familiar environments and comfort zones as long as possible.
How To Manage Moving Day
Moving day can be the biggest hurdle for you and your little one. Your child will likely be anxious about the event beforehand, and proper planning and preparation are key in ensuring they are ready for the big day.
Prepare Your Child Beforehand, Consider Their Comfort Levels, and Prepare Alternatives
The difficulty of moving day will depend on your child’s sensitivity levels. Ask anyone who’s moved before, and they will tell you that the day of the move is fast-paced, loud, and chaotic. Because of these factors, it can be a highly stressful environment for your child. Be sure to arrange plans with a family member, babysitter, or caregiver beforehand if your child needs to be away from the day of the move.
Create a Moving Day Schedule
A way to help reduce the stress of moving days is to create a detailed schedule of the day’s events. Be sure to include each step of the process, times, responsibilities, when the movers arrive (if any), and when you are all departing.
Provide Your Child With a Safe Space, Comfort Items, and Noise-canceling Devices
There is no way to eliminate all the stress of moving day completely. However, there are steps to reduce it. You can create a space to help your child feel safe during the move, such as an already cleared-out room of the house, far away from all the noise and racket. You can fill this space with their favorite comfort items or activities. Furthermore, providing calming sensory devices like their favorite fabric or noise-canceling headphones can help tremendously.
How to Transition Your Child to Your New Home
Your last hurdle during the move will be helping your child acclimate to new surroundings. Things can be difficult at first, so be sure to be conscious of your child’s mental state, keeping an eye out for subtle changes in routines or outbursts.
Keep Things Consistent, Create a Comfort Zone, and Restart Routines Right Away
One of the best ways to help your child get used to the new home is to establish their routines immediately. Make unpacking your child’s room a top priority and allow them to make any changes to the layout they want. However, if they prefer their old room layout, keep things as close to the same as possible.
Do your best to recreate the exact layout of the old home, focusing on their preferred, favorite, or most comforting elements of the home first. While this is happening, restart their regular schedule as soon as possible to further help in settling in.
Reach Out to Schools, Doctors, and Support Networks Early
If your move takes your child away from their old support systems, like schools, doctors, or social groups, you will want to establish new ones. Ideally, you can reach out to new schools, get referrals to local doctors, and reach out to any nearby friends and family beforehand. The more support networks your child has waiting on arrival, the better.
Be Conscious of Your Child’s Mental State
Attention to detail and patience are the most critical aspects of post-move acclimation. It may take time for your child to get used to the new home, and they may struggle significantly along the way. Since many children with autism do not show immediate signs of stress or have trouble communicating, you will have to pay special attention to their moods, habits, and patterns.
Children with autism can require regimented routines, stability, and familiar environments to feel contented and comfortable, all of which can be difficult to maintain during a big move. The tips and recommendations in this guide can give you a good starting point for approaching a move while making your child’s needs a top priority. We still recommend consulting your child’s psychiatrist or behavioral therapist (if applicable) for more specific advice on how best to handle your child’s needs during a move.