Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Autism Behavior – 7 Tips to Help a Move Go Smoothly
One of the most difficult disruptions any of us can have, but especially those on the autism spectrum is moving which nearly always causes autism behavior problems. When you move from one place to another, it’s an enormous change in schedule, routine, scenery and just about everything in your life. Think of how hard this might have been for you in the past and then multiply it by a thousand for your autistic child.
How can you help a child with autism or Asperger’s syndrome cope?
1. Prepare Your Child with Autism in Advance
Be sure to tell your child with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome far ahead of time about the move. Write a social story about moving. “In six weeks, Mommy and Daddy and Casey will be moving to another house. We will…” and describe what will go into this move in detail.
Take pictures of the new place if possible. It’s so much better when you know what you’re getting into.
Take your child to the new house ahead of time if possible. Autism behavior is improved when the child with autism has some idea of what will be happening. The more details, the better.
2. Try to Keep Things as Similar As Possible
Try to arrange the new house as similar to the old one as possible. It goes without saying that you should take as much of the things you had in your previous house as possible. Your child with autism or Asperger’s syndrome will need something familiar to hang onto.
If possible, have the child go visit a relative or trusted friend for a couple days during the packing and unpacking. This will minimize the stress for your child with autism seeing all his belongings getting moved into boxes, and the distress and negative autism behavior that can come from this.
If this isn’t possible, then try to save their room for last. If you can, wait to do it while they are sleeping on the night before you leave. Either way, try to leave out some comforting items, such as a DVD player, favorite stuffed animal or other things that will be comforting to your child.
To minimize autism behavior problems, unpack your child’s room first when getting to the new house. It’s important that he be settled as soon as possible. Otherwise, your child may have a meltdown and take days to settle down.
3. Establish a Routine Quickly
When talking about children on the autism spectrum, routine is always critical. When you move, all your routines are disrupted. Nothing seems the same, because nothing is the same.
When this happens, it’s a good idea to have a few routines that you can implement again rather quickly. If it was a local move, keep having your child go to the same school, places to eat, movie theaters etc. to show him that some things haven’t changed. One of the most important parts of minimizing problem autism behavior, as you probably know by now, is adherence to routine. Routine is what keeps the world making sense to the child with autism.
If it was a long distance move, keep bedtime the same, sing any songs that had been special between you, find equivalent activities to what you used to do (swimming or going to parks or whatever it was) and generally get into a routine that you keep. Don’t let your first days or weeks be willy-nilly, although that is a temptation that is easily fallen into after moving. Try to think of what this routine might look like before the move.
4. Be Aware of Safety Issues
Many children with autism may try to find the old house, or leave the house without knowing where he is. Until you can be sure he’s safe, you may want to consider locks on the doors or other areas. If you have a pool, make sure it’s covered.
5. Point Out Good Things About the New Place
Maybe you can walk to an ice cream shop, or to school. Maybe there is an amusement park nearby or some place of interest that your child can go to. Maybe your child will finally have their own room, or get a tree house, or be able to get a pet. You want to stress what is the same over what is different, but a little positive novelty probably won’t hurt.
If moving nearby, avoid going by the old house at first. This will be confusing to a child with and may result in negative autism behavior.
6. Avoid Daytime Moves when Possible
If driving a long distance, it may be helpful to do this at night, when your child is more likely to sleep through the journey. If you have someone who can set up the child’s bed before you arrive, so much the better. As an added plus, the traffic should be better at night.
7. Keep Important Documents with You and Focus On School Transition
You will want to have the most recent copy of your child’s IEP, or Individual Education Plan, with you to show the new school. You will also want, of course, your child’s medical records and contact information for his doctor. Some parents ask their child’s current teacher to write a letter of sorts to the new teacher, explaining the quirks and particular autism behavior of the child and introducing him. Many new teachers will find this helpful so that they don’t have to waste precious time re-inventing the wheel.
If you can, ask the school district to provide a “buddy” for your child, to help him get oriented and figure out where to go. Some schools already have these programs in place for new kids. Others you might have to ask.
If it’s possible for the child to see the classroom and school ahead of time, then by all means do so.
You want to arrive several weeks in advance of the school year if you can (although you can’t always help arriving mid-year) because it may take several weeks for a school to determine the best placement for your child, in terms of special education services.
Moving is hard for anyone, but with enough preparation, you and your child will do just fine. Autism behavior such as reliance on routine and difficulty with new things can make the moving process more challenging, but with a few precautionary steps, your child will adjust well to the new changes.
And for additional tips that can make life simpler and smoother for parents raising a child or teen with high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome, see The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide and the Asperger’s Syndrome Guide for Teens and Young Adults.