Change can be scary for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for children with ASD. This means moving can be especially stressful and challenging when you have a child on the spectrum — but it doesn’t have to be.
The key is to make the process as clear and comforting as possible for your child. Children with ASD do much better with transitions when they know exactly what to expect, have visual aids, can be a part of the process, can follow a routine, and have plenty of time to adjust. Below, we’ll go through the steps you can take to help your child with ASD better manage moving to a new home.
1. Communicate as Much as Possible
Clear and regular communication is essential for children on the spectrum no matter what the situation, but it is especially important when dealing with a big change. And, moving to a new home is a big and scary change.
To reduce stress and anxiety before the move, communicate as much information as possible. As mentioned above, children or anyone with ASD do well with transitions when they know what to expect. So, the more information you can give your child, the better. The more you talk to your child with autism about moving, the more they will understand and more easily adjust to the change.
This means talking to them about why you are moving, where you are moving to, what will happen during the process of moving, and what to expect after the move when you are in your new home. You can also talk to them about their specific role in the move and how they can help, as well as what specific things might change for them, such as new friends, a new bedroom, and a new school. You can even prepare them for new sights and sounds that might feel disjointed to your child with autism.
Make sure you also communicate in the most effective method for your child’s needs. For example, some children with ASD enjoy or require communication without speaking, such as using sign language and visuals. Don’t just revert to what is easiest for you because you are also under stress during the move. Try to keep communication styles and methods as close to what is routine and comforting as possible for your child.
2. Talk to a Therapist
If your child sees a therapist, you should also inform them of the move so they can work the topic into their sessions with your child. If you are moving to a new city or state and your child will have to change therapists, make sure you talk about this with them as well.
Transitioning to a new therapist can be difficult, but if your child is prepared, it will make it easier. Have their current therapist talk to them about this and try to set up sessions with new therapists before the move, if possible.
They can have virtual sessions online to help them adjust to the new therapists, and you should have an appointment set up for when you move so there is no disruption in their therapy schedule. Try to keep their sessions scheduled for the same days, as well, to keep with routine.
3. Make a Calendar, a Moving Checklist, and Other Visual Aids
Visual aids are essential for children with ASD and can significantly reduce stress and anxiety about a move. You can create a calendar or a schedule that maps out the timeline of the move, as this better prepares your child for what to expect and provides them with a clear visual that they can look at any time they need to so they know what is going to happen each day leading up to moving day.
A moving checklist can also be useful for getting your child involved. Making the move something they can help out with and be a part of rather than it happening to them can help reduce their anxiety and even make them excited about the process. Even if you know what needs doing, listing everything out for your child to see again helps them know exactly what to expect and what needs to happen, which makes the move less scary and unfamiliar.
Photos of the new house, neighborhood, and school are also excellent visual aids to help your child adjust. When you show them the photos, you can talk to them about these places and what to expect, including things that will be fun and exciting, as well as the things that may be hard for them to adjust to. It’s important to fully prepare them for everything new, the good and the bad — or what they might view as bad while still adjusting, initially.
4. Pack Slowly and Include Your Child in the Process
Make sure you plan for plenty of time to pack. Packing slowly over a longer period of time gives your child with ASD more wiggle room to adjust to the process and what is happening. If you pack everything quickly, it can be quite jarring or even traumatic.
So, take your time and get your child involved. Again, the more they help you with the move, the more they will feel comfortable. Make them part of the packing process rather than packing up their belongings without them having any say.
5. Make Them a Comfort Kit for Moving Day
Packing a “comfort kit” for the day of the move can also make the day go more smoothly and reduce stress for your child. Whether you are driving or flying across the country, your child with autism will appreciate a packed bag with some of their favorite items to help them feel more at ease. You can also include an itinerary for the day so they know the timeline and what to expect, and include the photos of your new home for them to look at if they want.
Throughout the entire moving process, make sure to give your child lots of reassurance or whatever they need to feel comforted. No matter how much you prepare them, they may still struggle on some days to deal with the changes happening, but the more supportive you are of their feelings and the more love and reassurance you give them, the easier it will be for them to work through a big move.