Moving is a stressful event – period. If you have kids, it adds an additional layer of stress. Have one or more special needs children? (EFMP) Well, then the stress level will be cranked up even higher. After plenty of military moves, I am happy to day, that we always made it – of course, we did. Though sometimes it was definitely harder than other times.
I can only speak for the experiences that I had with my daughter Anna. She is now 19 and has Down Syndrome. I also included tips from special needs parents around me. I do understand though, that “our” kids all have different levels of abilities and needs. What worked for me, certainly does not necessarily work for you. If there is only one suggestion in this post that you can take and successfully apply in your move, I ‘ll be a happy camper. Please comment and let me know!
Even as an adult It will take time to accept, adjust and adapt to the change. How hard must it be for a child who struggles with changes? Most likely the struggles will show with change in behavior. Below I have collected a few tips that might help you in the transition. Please add what you do during a move to assist your special needs child.
1. Set Your Expectations
How has your last move been with your special needs child? It could be an indicator how this upcoming move will be. However, your child has changed, so prepare for the unexpected. Everything new and different will be a stressor for you and your child and could potentially rock your world. Expect the worst and hope for the best.
While my daughter was easy to travel with, it took her about 6 months to get settled in and call her new home “home”. It helped me to just roll with the punches.
2. Have a Positive Attitude
Is your new move a happy occasion with many new opportunities? Are you excited about moving?
Are you sad to leave? Maybe the new location is not a place you are looking forward to be? If you can’t be able to be completely happy about your relocation, maybe somehow you can find a happy thought for your move. Your emotions will show and the happier the attitude you can muster, the easier this life event will most likely be for you. I recently read: “What you focus on expands.” These few words allowed me to really focus on the positive things in my life.
Don’t forget to take little bit of time for yourself, to keep you on task and not stretched too thin. Maybe some yoga or a good friend to talk to?
3. Talk about it early
Start talking to your child early and often. Talk about what to expect, how things will be in your new home and ask how your kids feels about it. This will assist in them gaining a measure of control of their life despite the change.
You could show them pictures or youtube videos. Maybe make a “My Move” book and include pictures of the new surroundings, new school.
4. Allow your child to make decisions
Give your child the opportunity to make decisions.
Small choices or bigger ones – it doesn’t matter. Having a say will help your child feel a part of the process.
Can your children share with you what they fear about the move? Can the whole family make a wishlist with things that would make each family member happy. Simply writing all of it down -on paper, on chalkboard or whiteboard – will be fun and raise some positive anticipation.
Whether you have a child with special needs or not, change stinks. If your kids do not want to talk about the move in the beginning, they might start to get more involved the closer you get to actually moving. Stay calm, be gentle and persistent with your communication.
5. Familiarize your kids with the new house
I had mentioned earlier a “move book” – how about a “new house book”? Hereby I assume that you have a chance to see your new home beforehand and take pictures of it: The new home, the rooms, their school etc.
Other modifications in your home: Plan ahead to figure out when you will do necessary modifications in your new home to accommodate you child’s disability (ramps, alarm systems etc)? Do you already have a timeline for that? Will you be able to move in WHILE you make the changes?
Anna is not really verbal and doesn’t understand tense (past, future). This has always made it a bit more difficult to actually prepare her for a future event. Still, we showed her lots of pictures, colored, drew, talked. It was the best we could do and after that we would just deal with whatever was coming.
6. Go House Hunting Together
Sometimes this is possible and sometimes that is just not in the cards. If you do have a choice and the disability of your child allows for all of you to go house hunting, do it. Space home showings far enough to allow for brief playground visits and other breaks. As a mother of a special needs child myself AND a Realtor I understand completely.
7. Do As Much As You Can Before You Leave
Since you know where all the doctors and service providers are located in your current town, do as much as you can while you are still there:
Get physicals, last minute dentist and doctor appointments, immunizations, order medications [including hopefully several refills], pick up records etc.
This will give you a little breathing room in your new town and allow a little extra time to find new providers and find your way around.
I am so glad that we now have GPS in our cars and/or on our phones. My favorite app is “WAZE” – for me it has actually been more helpful than Google Maps
8. Research, Network, REPEAT
Research your new location ahead of time and communicate as much as possible with parents that are already there. Facebook is probably the best place to connect. Google: “Facebook + “Special Needs”[or be more specific in your disability] + YOUR NEW TOWN/DISTRICT
In Colorado Springs I am connected with:
- Colorado Springs Area Special Needs Families
- Colorado Springs Special Needs Parent Advocates For Change
- Colorado Springs Down Syndrome Association
- Others: Colorado Springs Autism Parents
Well, you know the drill, right?
Inquire about programs that are available for your special needs family member. These groups are such a wonderful resource.
9. Meet School And Caretakers Ahead Of Time
If you know ahead of time which school or day care your kids will attend, get in touch with the special needs department of the new school district, the new school or other organizations that will be assisting you in your new location. What programs are available at the school? How many teachers and “paras” or teacher assistants are there per child? What kind of disabilities are there in the class?
10. Pack a treasure box
I have always enjoyed going to yard sales and buying new toys for the times we go camping and have to stay inside. It’s always a fun event when I give the kids a couple of dollars and they go with me to shop for new Matchbox cars, Barbies, books etc. I will assemble a treasure box filled with lots of “goodies”. The kids do not get to play with their newly acquired treasures until we are on the road or on the campground.
11. Make and open first box
We have always had an “Open Me First Box” for each room whenever we moved. The kitchen box would have the coffee machine (!!!!), filters, coffee, creamer,dishes and everything we might need first thing in the kitchen. Bedroom boxes of course, linens, blanket PJ’s, dolls, stuffed animals and such. We would try and get Anna’s room set up as much as possible to look as close to her previous room. I believe this definitely help her settle in quicker.
12. Your new home a little easier to navigate
My daughter usually didn’t have an issue with the new house itself but finding her way around the new house at night proved to be a challenge. So while boxes were still unpacked in the house, we used painters tape of different colors to tape paths to important places:The blue tape would lead to the bathroom, red to mom and dads bedroom for example. She’d walk “the line” many times during the day, sometimes running, sometimes balancing. At night, she would be able to find us or the bathroom [using the tapes and nightlights]
I just found this glow in the dark tape, that looks like a great idea to use as well. It even states “Clearly mark evacuation routes along stairwells, hallways and light switches” Never thought of sticking it to light switches!! Great idea.
13. Your Fire Department
Depending on your child’s disability it could be a good idea to inform your closest fire department about your child moving into the neighborhood, maybe you can even introduce them to each other? That way your child will not (or less) be scared of these strangers, but at least the fire department gets to know your child.
Our fire department has been very receptive to the introduction. Hopefully yours is as well.
14. Enlist a caregiver
Have you had a chance to get to know a few people in your new location? Can you enlist a family member to watch your kids while you are working to move in? It could be as easy as having the neighbors[older] son/daughter spending time with your child. There is also care.com to find dependable and screened care.
If you are military, your military duty station should be offering a few days of free day care to you.
15. Watch For Signs Of Challenges
Pay close attention for any signs of sadness or anxiety. The child is leaving something that is very safe and secure and going into a situation that is new and doesn’t feel as safe and secure as their old home.
Other suggested aids:
- A calendar to “count-down” the days until moving day – pretty much like a redeployment countdown or a christmas calendar. There are several templates out there for these occassions (Pinterest is your best friend) and you could adapt them accordingly to your requirements;
- A visual timeline noting all the things that happen before moving day and after; this may help the children anticipate the disruption once the movers deliver everything to the new home;
- Pictures of the “old” house – the house alone and the house with family members in the photos;
Pictures of looking for a new house;
Pictures of the new house;
Pictures of packing up the old house and getting your family’s things ready for the new house; make sure to photograph those things most important to your child to reassure him or her that these special things are coming with you to the new house;
- Pictures of a moving truck – great if you can go to the company and photograph one from the company you are using;
- Pictures of moving men loading a truck;
- Photo of the child in his new room;
- Pictures of the family in front of the new house; “At first, everything will not be put away and it will be a mess; Eventually, one room at a time, the new house will be organized and feel like home”
- You may consider another social story to accompany this one if the child will need to change schools, or programs.
Examples of Social Stories