Helping Your Child with Special Needs Cope with Moving 

Moving can be a stressful experience, from the moment you decide to put your house on the market to months after the boxes are unpacked. And this may be especially true for parents of children with special needs. You want to prepare your child for the upcoming move — but how?  

When Dr. Cindy Molloy — a retired autism researcher and parent of an adult daughter with special needs named Shannon — moved with her daughter, she found that creating a “moving story with her daughter proved to be the best thing in preparing for, and going through, the transition.  

Here are few of Molloy’s tips for parents who are preparing their child for an upcoming move.  

Prepping for the Move 

When psychiatrist Leo Kanner first described autism 75 years ago, he used the phrase “quest for sameness.” There are few things more disruptive to “sameness” than moving, Molloy says.   

As much as possible, provide your child with assurance about what will stay the same,” she says. For whatever must change, try to provide enough information to make it predictable. If your child is very aware of time, dates and calendars, you can use that to create a timeline for them, and start preparing as soon as possible. 

“We tried to be as concrete as possible. Terms like ‘old house’ and ‘new house’ can be confusing. Instead, use anything that clearly distinguishes between the old and new, such as the house with a porch or tall apartment building.” 

Creating Your Moving Story 

Molloy says that she took pictures of her daughter with things that are important to her, and made those things a prominent part of her story. We don’t have pets, but it would be important to include them so that your child doesn’t worry that the pets will be left behind,” Molloy says. For things that we did need to leave behind, we included an explanation about why they couldn’t move with us. 

We found it very helpful to take pictures of the empty rooms where Shannon’s things would go, so she could begin to picture her stuff there. If you can explore the new neighborhood in person and visit places you think your child would like, that is ideal. If the new place is far away, you can get pictures online and put them in the story. 

Molloy tried to anticipate what would cause Shannon the most worry, and addressed those concerns. We included a picture of the moving van from a company photo online so she was prepared when the movers arrived,” she says.  

Molloy also suggests paying extra attention to your routines, and remember that the things that are minor to you could be really important to your child. We moved from a house with an attached two-car garage to a home with a detached garage with a roof in need of repair,” Molloy says. So, we parked on the street and this caused Shannon incredible distress because, in her mind, cars belong in the garage. We had to add a page to her story about the timing of repairs, and when the car could go into the garage. Once she had a timeline, things were OK again. 

Moving can be anxiety provoking, but with thoughtful planning and preparation, you and your child will make it through the process successfully. And before you know it, your new house will begin to feel like home.  

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