Moving across the country with autism is no easy feat. Moving across the country without autism is no walk in the park either. So much to do,so much to pack, so many people to see. The list goes on and on for real. Pile onto those stressors the added resistant to change that most people with autism struggle with and you have a recipe for disaster if you don’t pay attention.
We recently relocated from Florida to Arizona. My husband and children had, up until now, lived in the same 30 mile radius their entire lives. Moving anywhere would be a tremendous change for them. Not moving wasn’t an option though. The house we lived in was owned by Michael’s mother who decided suddenly that she was selling it. After further discussion we decided that this was our one opportunity to make a major change. Logan was going to struggle with the move regardless if it was down the road or to the moon. If a major change was a future possibility then why make him struggle twice.
There were several things that worked for us prior to the move with Logan. It was a learn as we go experience. I had to remind myself, Michael as well as Madison to have extra patience with him. While it was also traumatic for Madison, the change in routine was especially stressing to Logan. There were times when we needed to have extra patience with all of us. It helped everyone to remember that change is hard by constantly reminding each other to take extra time with Logan.
- Start telling the child as soon as it becomes a possibility that a move may be imminent. As soon as we were notified that our house would be sold, we began to prep Logan for a location change. We approached the idea of moving out of state when we traveled to the Teach Them Diligently conventions. We would talk about how that could be our Wal-mart. This would make a great Starbucks to do our homeschool lessons. You get the idea. It was basically an activity to get him to start thinking of other places we could do our home activities.
- Once you know where you are moving, let the child know immediately. As soon as it was decided that Arizona was our ultimate destination, we told Logan. You can imagine how devastated he was to hear the news. This is ok. We talked about what he was afraid of, how he could still talk to his friend , Geo, and what exciting adventures lay ahead of us. Come up with concrete examples of things you will do together at your new location. Show him pictures of your house if you have them. The more prepared he is for what lies ahead the better.
- Pack slowly. We had about 6 weeks from the time Madison and I returned from our summer adventures with Julie to the time we left for our new home. Everything didn’t need to be packed at once that belonged to Logan. One box a day was the most we asked from him in his room. He only had to go through his books until the box was filled then he was done. We did have one almost meltdown when he though ALL his books had to go in one box. Once we clarified that was not the case, he settled down. He was expected to cull his items as he packed them. He was not forced to get rid of anything he didn’t want to at that moment unless it clearly needed to be culled like garbage or too small clothing. Now is not the time to make him give up what he perceived as prized possessions. Resist the urge to make a massive purge at the same time as the move. Too much change will make the child shut down. You don’t want that, trust me.
- Give lots of hugs and reassurement. Some days Logan was just sad. On those days , I gave him big hugs and reassured him that it would be ok. He also needed to know that it was ok to be sad about moving. It was a big adjustment. His feelings were not played down or minimized. We made sure that he knew it was perfectly acceptable to feel however he was feeling. At times he just needed to know that he would still be able to play video games or he could still study reptiles.
It doesn’t have to be a horrid experience to move with autism. You do however have to plan for preparing the child with autism. Preparation is key to making this an experience livable. In the end that may be all you get out of it. Sometimes with autism it’s about surviving the experience with the least possible battle wounds. Forget the rainbows and unicorn moments here. Anything over survival is a bonus. Keep your expectations realistic for your child. If all he can do some days while moving is get up and get dressed then so be it. Continuously remind yourself that this too shall pass. You will move from crisis mode back to thriving in time. The next time you move, he will have this experience to draw from which will make it all that much easier. Make these episodic memories positive ones.