I’m a single parent of an autistic boy, and he and I have moved many times over the last seven years. The first couple of times, I expected it to be tough on him, for him to be upset at the new place, or for his behavior to regress. However, that never really happened.
Why? I think the main reason is because I’ve been the one constant in his life. Wherever he’s gone all his life, I’ve been right there with him. Provide that sense of stability for your own child by always being there for him or her.
Beyond that, you need to get your child emotionally prepared for the move.
To ease your child into the idea of the new place, and to get him or her looking forward to it, consider planning the new bedroom with your child ahead of time. If your child is into computers and electronics, consider using a room planning app. There are many online and available for different platforms. Planning the arrangement of their new bedroom, or even the entire apartment will be fun for both of you. After all, your child will be living there too, and this can make the transition more comfortable.
It can be scary for any parent when a child disappears. For an autism parent, it’s especially frightening, knowing that your child has difficulty communicating and could wander anywhere.
That’s why you need to make sure your home is safe and that they won’t leave without you or another trusted adult. Personally, I get double-sided locks for any door that leads outside. That way, my son won’t go outside, get interested in something, and go right after it. One thing can lead to another, and your child can end up lost.
If you own, you can do this without asking anyone for permission. If you rent your place, clear this with your landlord or manager. I have never had a problem with them agreeing to this.
Also, it’s easy to get the new lock rekeyed, so that the existing key for the door works on the new lock. Places like Home Depot can rekey your new locks for less than it costs to buy your own rekeying kit.
The New School
Moving a special needs child to a new school is more complicated than with a neurotypical child. Most children will simply get placed in a grade-appropriate classroom. Children with special needs must be placed in a class that accommodates their needs and learning style. Your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) goes to the new school and that school must follow it.
If you can get that going before the move, then things will go more smoothly when you arrive at your new place. Also, if you can, schedule a time shortly before your move to see the school with your child. I can tell you from experience that if your child sees the new class and likes it, that helps tremendously. Also, if there’s something that bothers you about the new class, you can address it. You can also let the teacher know ahead of time what your child’s needs are. For example, whenever we move, I ask my son’s new teacher to put a stop sign on the door, so that if my son wants to go outside, he’ll have a reminder that he needs to wait for an adult.
What’s in your immediate neighborhood? Do you live in an area with houses for blocks, and shopping at a distance? Is shopping really close? What about parks?
First, since people with autism tend to wander, you or a trusted adult need to be with your child whenever he or she goes out.
While a familiarity with home and school are most important, so is familiarity with the neighborhood. When you want to go somewhere, your child can suggest places to go based on what he or she knows is nearby. This sort of involvement can help your child to feel more settled in the area.
Armed with the above knowledge, you can create something that will really help your autistic child mentally and emotionally prepare for the move.
You may have noticed in your child’s school or ABA therapy the use of pictures and words together. For example, in order to help your child understand it’s time to do math, the teacher may have a photograph of the child working on math, and print it with a caption that says, “Working on Math.” She could then show it to your son or daughter and say, “It’s time to do math,” which will make it clearer for your child.
These are also called social stories, and Autism Speaks has several helpful templates. Take photographs, and put together a picture book or a video that explains each step of the move.
It might go something like this.
We live in a nice house.
You have a great room!
In October, though, it’s time to move.
First, Mom, Dad, and friends will pack a truck.
Then, we’ll drive to our new city.
This is our new house! Isn’t it nice?
Here’s your new room! We’ll arrange it just right!
Here’s your new school!
Here’s your new class.
Mrs. Smith is your new teacher.
Here’s the nearby park.
You can go on the swings!
We’re all going to love living in our new home.
If your child is anything like mine, he or she will love watching the video and may want to talk about it. My son likes to repeat these sorts of things verbatim. When his school planned on a big field trip to see Santa Claus, they created a great social story book for all the kids. He enjoyed reading that, and he would come up to me and say, “First, we’re getting on the bus! Then, we’re going to the mall!” Social stories help to not only get children used to the idea of something new that’s coming up, but invested in it.
Your move with your autistic child does not have to be difficult. With the above advice, hopefully you can make it a lot more fun. If your child still has difficulties, that’s all right. Show patience and look back over the picture story. The important thing is that you’re doing what you can to make the move better for your child.