Moving home can be stressful as it is, but add children to the mix, and it can become virtually unbearable. It can affect the entire family. Children can often feel affected by the whole process also. When thinking of the autistic child or young person and moving home, some areas are essential to consider.
Let’s look at a few ideas to make the whole thing smoother for everyone.
Talk/ show them the entire process.
To just say that you are all moving home will be hard for many children, including autistic children, to understand. Showing an autistic child precisely what to expect, and each step is vital to their understanding of what to expect when moving day comes around. Preparing them will go a long way to alleviating any anxiety they may have about leaving their old home and venturing into a new and strange property. Use photos and especially walk-through videos of the property to create a “moving home book” including their new bedroom that can be looked at and talked about many times before the move. Be sure to include any photos and videos of the street and areas around the new home also.
Take them to see the new home.
A great way to prepare children for is happening is to ask if it is possible to bring them along to a second viewing, bearing in mind Covid related restrictions. Taking them for a walk around the new area of the home can also help prepare them. Getting them comfortable is imperative. By introducing them to the neighbourhood and the new home, you will be helping them get used to the idea of moving home and the new home before it happens. Showing your autistic child their new room in their new home, if possible to do, can help embed the idea of a new home for some autistic children. Be sure to ask the agency for videos and photos if they aren’t many available on their website.
Help them voice their concerns.
Listen to their concerns too. If they struggle to communicate verbally, using dolls and play may assist in conveying the idea of living in a new home as well as possibly see any anxieties about moving. Always try to answer their questions honestly and thoroughly. Autistic children think and perceive the world differently, and they may even open your eyes to things you may not have thought of yourself. Helping them voice concerns can help to relieve anxieties that they feel.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
Preparing to move is a chore. Let’s be honest about it. Selecting an appropriate time to move also isn’t always easy, but the more preparation you do, the better it will be for your autistic child. Some parents think moving in the middle of the summer holidays is better. Others find it easier for their children if they move during term time, as this helps occupy their mind and gives you extra time to prepare and pack. If you feel your child will be overwhelmed when you start to pack up items, regardless of preparing them, then consider a pictures/ videos explaining exactly why when we move we must pack up and take our things with us. It could also be that even doing that may not make a difference, and the idea of moving things is causing them anxiety. Then definitely consider packing when they aren’t there in the room or home.
You know what is best for your autistic child, so as much as possible, organise the move in a way to remove their anxiety best. If you feel the move itself could be overwhelming, maybe that means after preparing them for the move, what the new area and home will look like, that they aren’t there for the actual full move itself. It may be best that they are there for only the final section, moving the items into the new home.
If you are moving to an entirely new area, there will be many things you and your child can explore together, so make a list. This may come in handy when exploring the new area together before the move itself.
The time just before the actual move can be an incredibly anxious time for your autistic child or young person. Despite all of the preparation, most people feel anxiety and anticipation when moving home so, for our autistic children, this may be heightened anxiety. You may notice the anxiety manifesting in sleep disturbance, less flexibility and other difficulties. These difficulties are why preparation is so crucial. Those photos, videos or photo book can be reassuring to your autistic child to have.
Keeping the time before the move as calm as possible can really help reduce the anxiety your autistic child may be feeling as the day to move approaches. Having already packed up the non-vital items, if possible, time can be spent together instead of rushing to have everything ready.
Involve them/ Turn it into a game.
Another great way to make the whole process more tangible for your autistic child is to get them involved with the process. This could be as simple as letting them help you pack some small items, possibly even some of their own. Do not make the mistake of packing any favoured items as you may have to unpack them before the move. Often many parents leave most of their children’s items until last to pack with the final essential items.
A good tip, if it works with your autistic child, is to turn the day into a bit of a game. Doing this may help get them interested in what is happening. The game can be packing for the move and or the moving day itself. Moving home is a massive step, and many of us can get caught up in the stress of it all. Being prepared relieves some of this and allows you to let go of some stress and focus on your child.
Labelling, it is a skill that is very good to have. When dealing with your autistic child’s thing, simply putting labels such as ‘clothing’ on boxes will do for your personal effects. But it may not necessarily be enough for your child’s items. Be specific. It is without a doubt that your child will ask you for something or need something and you want to know exactly where that thing is. It can make the difference between your autistic child being overloaded or calm.
Packing everything correctly is essential if you want to minimise any damage or losses during your move. However, is there any items your autistic child simply cannot do without? Most likely there is, so keep these unpacked, provided they aren’t large items, especially if they are a stim toy/favourite item.
Settle them in
Once you are all moved into your new home with your autistic child, it’s crucial to settle them as quickly as possible. Getting their familiar items out of the boxes quickly will help stabilise them and make them feel at home. Sticking to established routines from the old home is vital as well. These routines, well established, help reduce anxiety in autistic children and sticking to them in the new home helps them establish predictability.
Just a few ideas to keep in mind, as well as preparation, can make moving home with your child far less stressful and maybe even a little fun.
Lastly, enjoy your new home. 🙂