Special Needs Now

15 Tips for Moving When Your Child Has Autism

From preparing in advance to moving day to setting in, these expert tips can help make your move to a new home easier.

Woman taping a moving box shut Shutterstock
Moving to a new home is never easy for any child, but for a child with autism—especially one like my non-speaking son who thrives on routines and knowing what to expect from his days and environments—it can be downright terrible. A few weeks ago we moved 2000 miles from Oregon to the Midwest, which was a tough, five-day road trip full of ups and downs for the whole family. Then, we stayed with my in-laws for three weeks while we looked for housing, which helped my son adjust a bit as he was around beloved grandparents and in a familiar home. It was just the other day that we finished moving into a new home in a city where we have lived before. Although it's been a time of many changes, now that we're finally settled, I'm thrilled to say my son is quickly adjusting to his surroundings.

To prepare for our many moves, I relied on the advice of Deborah Crawford, a certified speech-language pathologist and manager of Clinical Speech-Language Services at Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders. Her 15 tips helped make our move so much smoother:

Preparing for the Move

  1. Announce the news with enough warning. A few weeks may be all a younger child needs, but teenagers need a month or more to prepare mentally and will benefit from seeing the upcoming moving day on a calendar.
  2. Give kids a sense of where the family is headed. Show pictures of the new home and your child's room, as well as the neighborhood and school.
  3. Make a visual schedule of the moving process. Images to represent cleaning out, packing boxes, a moving truck, a drive and hotel stay, and unpacking will help give meaning to the word, "moving."
  4. Get kids involved in the packing process. Having your child help to clean out and pack a bedroom gives the opportunity to talk about how what goes into the boxes will come back out at the new home.
  5. Make school continuity a priority. Contact the new school before you move to let them know about your child's needs and share a copy of his or her individualized education plan (IEP). Encourage older students to write a note (with your assistance, if needed) to the new counselor to ask for help getting to know the school.

On Moving Day

  1. Consider safety and security. If your child with ASD is prone to climbing or wandering, keep in mind the height of stacked boxes and the likelihood of open doors and windows on moving day.
  2. Arrange for help if needed. Ask a trusted neighbor, grandparent or loved one to care for your child at least part of the day.
  3. Try to involve your child in some part of the move such as sweeping each room as it is emptied. Avoid having your child return to an empty house if they have not been involved in helping with the move. They may not understand why their house is empty, which could be upsetting.
  4. Pack favorite toys and comfort items last. Give kids a choice for what to keep unpacked until the last day. Mark your boxes clearly so that comfort items can be easily accessed upon arrival in the new home.
  5. Consider keeping some items handy as part of a comfort kit complete with favorite foods to keep with you during travel to your new home.

Settling In

11. Go slow. Know that it may take time for your child to adjust to the new environment and it may be difficult at times. Setting up your child's bedroom before he or she arrives can help ease some of the challenges.

12. Consider medical needs. If your child struggles with sleep or anxiety, keep in mind that during times of transition medications may need to be adjusted.

13. Reach out to your neighborhood. If you are comfortable, contact your immediate neighbors or neighborhood association to share information about your family.

14. Begin building a new "village" of services and support. If moving to a new state, the local chapters of autism advocacy organizations can be helpful.

15. Your child may want to keep in touch with old friends. Encourage letter writing, phone calls and video chats to keep your child connected to old friends and other important people in their lives.

Before, during, and after our many moves, I found myself revisiting this list and then incorporating Crawford's suggestions into my own to-do lists. I hope these help you and your kids with your next move, and we'd love it if you'd share your own tips and stories about moving with kids of all abilities in the comments!

Jamie Pacton writes middle grade and young adult fiction, drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook, and Twitter @jamiepacton.