Solutions to Make Moving Easier with Your Special Needs Child
Moving to a New Home
Individuals with special needs (and let’s be honest, most of us) can display difficulty with transitions and may have a tough time adjusting to change. Instead, we generally thrive when there are consistent, set expectations in place. Moving to a new home can be filled with a mix of emotions ranging anywhere from excitement to fear. In general, we know that moving to a new home is never considered easy and many factors are involved that need to be taken into consideration to ensure the ease of such a transition to the best of one’s ability. We are hopeful that this article will provide a range of efficient, low effort solutions for parents to consider when planning and preparing for a move to a new home.
Lets Review This Scenario:
Jimmy, a 5-year-old male diagnosed with Autism, has limited communication, however, he excels with the use of visuals and clear and concise expectations. Jimmy does not respond well to last-minute changes and often engages in tantrum behavior when this occurs. In 4 weeks, Jimmy’s family is moving to a new home and caregivers are working to develop a plan to ensure his success with this move and to gain some excitement! Below are some of the strategies his parents used.
The use of a social story might be an effective approach as an initial step in your preparation. A social story is a short description of a situation that includes specific details about what to expect. Social stories can be customized for the individual and situation. In addition, parents can use visual aids in conjunction with social stories. This is often used in schools! Speaking of visual aids, parents can also use a calendar or a count-down system to indicate the number of days leading to the move. To encourage your child to be involved in the process, allow them to
Additionally, it is important to consider steadily exposing your loved one to the new location. This strategy is called graduated exposure. Exposure therapy aims to encourage or diminish behaviors that come in response to certain situations by repeatedly and consistently demonstrating benign or even beneficial consequences. Some ideas associated with gradually exposing your child to the new move include steps such as setting up rooms prior to arrival in small steps, ensuring your child’s room stays familiar at some level “new room looks like old room,” and controlling for consistency to the best of your ability.
We’ve discussed some good strategies to prevent our children from being overwhelmed in a new home. However, we can’t prevent everything. There are just some things out of our control, and our children need to learn the skills to let us know when they are overwhelmed or to let us know what needs they have. Generally, we will know our children’s patterns and routines. We know what they like and don’t like, so it’s best to set up rewards based on their preferences. For instance, if our child gets overwhelmed easily in new places, perhaps we can let them not only bring their “fox dog” in the new location but also earn a new fox animal for coming to the new location with us. We would want to make sure those expectations are set with them clearly (e.g., “stay with me” or “ask first before touching”). If we set the rules right and remind them while we are there, we can help create motivation and pair the new home with fun, preferred things and activities. Another example might be to set up a playdate with a friend at the new home. Set those rules up for appropriate activities and behaviors, and they can earn a pizza for dinner. Try a scavenger hunt, where your child can find fun items for their new bedroom like wall star stickers or a bed tent. This helps pair the new home with not only familiar things but also new things as well!
In addition to pairing our new home with fun items and activities, we need to give our children strategies to be independent when things might go awry. All parents have likely experienced things not going to plan. We want our children to be safe as well as happy in the new home. One of the strategies this author has used is to practice our new address before the actual move. Make things fun by using stickers that show different mastery levels. Consider who your neighbors are and provide them with information about your child’s routines or needs. Get to know the structure of the community. Are there any play areas? What are the crime rates of the community? Is it near a large road or highway? For example, Jimmy’s parents know that he likes pools. They know that there is a community pool. They did their due diligence in looking up any potential offenders nearby and found none. They then introduced themselves to their immediate neighbors and neighbors who live right by the community center. They gave their neighbors a picture of Jimmy and exchanged numbers just in case.
This brings us to another consideration we need to make as parents: we all need a break occasionally. Are you and other neighborhood parents able to support each other? In addition, it’s always best to make sure there are backup plans in case something goes wrong. For example, Jimmy is upset at his mom and elopes from his new home. She runs after him, but he’s younger and faster. He looks to be heading in the direction of the pool. She immediately calls her neighbor, Ella, to let her know he is heading their way. The neighbors see him and are able to manage him into their home safely.
Some other considerations you may want to make include using what worked in your old home and also accepting that your child might ask about the old home and not understand the new routines. Remember to include preferred family members and any therapy providers to support the transition into the new home.
In conclusion, there are many things to consider when moving to a new home for all parties involved. Recall the story above about Jimmy; perhaps laying out a clear overview of what the next 30 days will bring will benefit Jimmy’s transition. Make a timeline; show pictures of key things that are about to happen and help Jimmy to check them off as they are completed; schedule intentional visits to the new home and assign Jimmy some “jobs” associated with the new home and his new room. Including Jimmy and gaining his buy in and motivation will ensure a fun and exciting move for all!
About Author Holly Downs
Holly is the Director of Ethical Compliance at [PBS Corp] (https://www.teampbs.com/). and an instructor at Capella University. She is a certified behavior analyst with over a decade of experience in various populations