Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused
By Alex Utley, M.S., LABA, BCBA
[This column was published in the West Springfield Republican on 6/29/23.]
Moving to a new home or community is an exciting, but stressful event for everyone. Parents and caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in particular may worry about how the move will impact their child and want to minimize the stress their child may experience as much as possible.
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disability that may result in individuals experiencing differences in social communication and interaction and restricted and repetitive pattern of behavior. Further, autistic individuals may experience increased difficulty when there are changes or disruptions in their typical routines. As a result, big changes like moving to a new home or community may require additional planning and preparation for autistic children and their families. Although some stress while moving is inevitable, there are some strategies parents and caregivers may consider using before, during, and after the move to help ease this transition and minimize stress.
Preparing to Move
In preparation for a move, it may be beneficial for parents and caregivers to talk to their child about the move early on to prepare them for the upcoming change. They may describe what will happen during the move, such as packing their belongings and traveling, as well as after the move, such as living in a new house, starting a new school, and/or saying goodbye to friends. Parents and caregivers should assess when it is the right time to talk about upcoming changes. Some children may benefit from advanced preparation, while others may benefit more from learning about upcoming changes closer to the time of the move to alleviate potential stress and/or anxiety resulting from advance preparation.
Visual aids can help parents and caregivers explain the move and what it will include. These aids may include photos of the new home, moving boxes, the new school, places in the new community, new people they may meet/interact with, and more. It is also a good idea to provide frequent reminders about the upcoming move as the moving date grows closer.
To help their child look forward to the move, parents and caregivers can seek out activities and events (e.g., restaurants with play areas and activity centers) in the new community that their child might enjoy and tell their child about them. If possible, it might also be helpful to bring the child to visit the new home and/or community in advance of the move in order to expose and familiarize them to the new environment. If it is not possible to visit prior to moving, caregivers may provide their child with a “virtual tour” using photos or videos of the home and select community spaces.
During/After the Move
On the day of the move, parents and caregivers can provide the child with a visual schedule with text, photos, and/or picture icons that depict what will happen. This could serve as a calendar of events – such as packing boxes, traveling, and unpacking – that visually and specifically lays out what the child’s day will look like. This may further help the child anticipate what to expect during the move. Another way to ease the transition would be to prioritize unpacking and organizing the child’s room after moving, as being surrounded by familiar and/or preferred items is always comforting.
The moving process will go more smoothly if the family can stick to their typical routine as much as possible – adhering to normal mealtimes, bedtime routines, and continuing to engage in typical daily activities. In all cases, families should resume their typical routines as soon as it is possible and realistic to do so after the move has been completed.
After settling in, parents and caregivers can begin helping their child associate the new home environment with positive/fun experiences. For example, they may encourage their child to engage with some of their favorite (i.e., highly preferred) items, activities, and quality caregiver attention. Taking part in community events and activities may promote greater access to and participation in preferred or interesting activities, help facilitate the child’s familiarization with the new area, and help initiate social connection and belonging in their new community.
Alex Utley, M.S., LABA, BCBA, is an Assistant Program Director at May Institute who works in the School Consultation program.
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, and our new school in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit www.mayinstitute.org.