Raising a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is challenging enough when you're able to set up a steady routine at home. Moving is stressful and disruptive to the entire family, but it's especially difficult for youngsters that thrive on similarities that carry over from day to day. Make the move a little easier on your child with at least a few of these coping techniques.
Visit Often and Early
Try your best to time the closing on your new house before your moving out date for the current home. Having access to the new home allows you to plan multiple visits, even if the home is across the country. Visiting at least twice, and touring the neighborhood around the house, is the best way to prevent fright and anxiety when moving into the house for good. Hire a team to handle the packing so you can dedicate more of your time to these preparatory visits.
Make Custom Social Stories
You likely already use pre-written social stories to help your child learn about and prepare for tasks like visiting the doctor, meeting a distant relative, or interacting with siblings. In addition to general and generic moving stories, customize your own book about the move with additions like
- Photos of your old home and the new one, including shots of every room and the yard
- Images of favorite pieces of furniture, toys, and decorations that are moving with your child
- Explanations of every step of the move, broken down as far as possible
- Pictures of the movers and trucks, so your child understands why their items are disappearing into boxes.
Replicate the Room
Obviously it's hard to find a home with the same layout as your current abode, but you can at least arrange the furniture in similar groupings in the new house. Take care to try and replicate the child's bedroom as closely as possible especially, so your child has a comforting place to hide when the unfamiliarity of the new surroundings prove too much. Cover the windows until your child settles in so that the unfamiliar view doesn't trigger them.
Prepare for Reactions
Unfortunately, children with severe ASDs are likely to meltdown at least once during the preparations or actual move no matter how much you prepare. Bring along anything you need for dealing with emergencies, including sensory input limiting devices like sound-blocking headphones and blackout glasses. You may need to invest in gentle restraint jackets and blankets so that major tantrums don't interrupt crucial travel plans, like causing the flight to land early while you're halfway to your destination.
Continue the Routine
Instead of spending hours each day trying to pack everything in time for your move, let the professionals handle that, and try to maintain the same routine through the preparations and travel. If your child gets up at 7 am and always immediately eats a fruit-flavored yogurt, arrange your flights so you can spend the night in hotels and set the alarm clock for a routine morning. Taking a few extra days to unpack or travel between states can pay off in a big way.
Involve the Child
Finally, try to involve your child in the actual move as much as possible without upsetting them. Let your kid carefully pack away each teddy bear and toy car, saying goodbye to the toys as they go. Sit with them to watch as the movers load everything into the truck so they understand that the furnishings aren't simply disappearing or being thrown away.
Autism spectrum disorders make it difficult to understand what's going on, so give yourself plenty of time to explain the situation over and over again. Aside from hiring a moving company so you can spend more time with your special needs child, consider bringing along a paid and trained helper during travel to manage stress and bad reactions.