EPISODE 31: MOVING WITH AUTISM
“How to help your loved one cope during and after a move.”
Hey, everyone! Thanks for joining My Autism Tribe. Today’s topic is how to help your loved one with autism cope during and after a move. As in, packing up an entire house and moving to an entirely different location. Stay tuned for some helpful tips! And as always, if you’re enjoying our podcast, please rate and review us wherever you listen to podcasts, and share with a friend. That’s how we make our voice stronger. Thanks for listening!
My son and I recently moved, and I have to say there’s a reason moving is considered one of the top five most stressful situations in life. I think the other four are divorce, job loss, illness, and the death of a loved one. It’s no secret as to why. Not only is it a complete hassle, but it disrupts your life in ways that push even the most organized, experienced and sane adults to their mental and physical limits. It’s a marathon, people.
And for a child, coping with the stress of moving is even more difficult. Maybe they also have to change schools, maybe there’s a co-occurring trauma happening like divorce. This is a lot, and a child’s still-developing brain is not equipped yet for the challenge of relocating their entire life. Sometime you can see immediate negative responses, like tantrums, outburst, trouble eating, not sleeping, and then others may respond more subtly over time, and can show up as depression or anxiety. We all know that every child is different, but for children with autism, the effects of moving can be even more pronounced. I wouldn’t say that moving is ever a pleasant experience, but there’s a little bit of good news. As a parent or caregiver, there are steps you can take throughout the move to make the experience easier for your child with autism. I’ve moved so many times with my son Alex, that I my process is like a well-oiled machine. Not kidding. This is almost embarrassing, but during the course of Alex’s short life (he just turned 6), we have moved a total of four times – two of those times were out-of-state moves. You get the picture. So…without further ado, let me share some tips with you, in the case that you are planning a move, or possibly anticipating a move.
Create a Narrative
Start with writing your own story. For children with autism, communication is critical. Put simply, you should explain to your child the who, what, when, where, why, and how of moving. Tell them where you’re moving and why. (Just be sure to be age-appropriate, of course) Let them know that the people and things they love and care about will be moving with them. Let them know when you’ll begin the moving process, how long it will take, and how you’ll pack, move, and unpack your things. And the whole time, use a positive tone that conveys that everything is going to be OK. Being aware of the process will allow your child to begin to understand it and, ultimately, come to terms with it.
One of my favorite ways of doing this is to create a social story — or even several stories — depicting the transition. Many children on the spectrum are visual learners who do better with concrete information, as opposed to abstract concepts. That’s why social stories work. They take specific situations that are difficult to grasp, like moving to a new home or changing schools, and explain them. What’s more, they walk the child through the emotions they may feel, how they might expect others to act during the process, as well as healthy responses to each.
When creating your own social story, consider these tips:
Design your story to address one problem, situation, or desired outcome. Use different stories for different aspects of the move, like enrolling in a new school or taking a long car ride to the new home, to keep the story from being too long.
When possible, use real pictures of your family, as well as your names and other personal details. Ask your real estate agent to send you photos from the new home to incorporate.
Be truthful and accurate, but always speak in a positive tone. You should also highlight the positive aspects of the move — decorating a new bedroom, having a bigger backyard to play in, or being closer to activities and people they love, for example.
Use simple language that is easy for your little one to understand and repeat.
Have the child present the story to their family and friends as a way of building confidence around the situation.
In addition to the custom solution a social story provides, you can also use existing books, movies, and music to familiarize your child with the moving process from the eyes of another child, family, or even fictional character. Here’s how:
Use your child’s favorite storytellers. If there is a series or character your child already