Moving is stressful on the best of days. Add a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to the mix and you have your work cut out for you. Every child with ASD, as you’re doubtless aware, is resistant to change, not to mention has uniquely specific housing needs. If you want everything to go smoothly, it’s a good idea to get organized and plan– preferably weeks or even months ahead.
In this guide, we take you through the important house hunting and moving considerations you need to make for a child on the autism spectrum.
Finding appropriate housing for your child
Children with autism, as the Local Government Association (UK) can tell you, are easily overstimulated. They can’t switch off or tune out, which means they need extra peace and quiet to recharge and recuperate. Noisy neighborhoods or lack of personal space won’t cut it for them. Furthermore, some children have medical conditions, which also need to be addressed.
Keep in mind that finding a ready-made house suitable for your child (and family), with the structural modifications you want or need, might be impossible. You may have to remodel and renovate a regular house to match, which may involve hiring contractors. This can be tricky – contractors must be carefully vetted.
Here is what ideal housing for children with ASD looks like (although every child is unique):
A quiet “sensory” space
Sensory spaces are protected rooms or corners where a child can go to unwind and rest. You fill them with items that calm your child down, starting with comfortable lighting and furniture. Movement-oriented items like rocking chairs and trampolines allow your child to work off excess energy, while tactile and sensory items like crash pads and toys keep them engaged.
A beautiful garden
A garden works like an external sensory room for children with autism. It allows them to experience nature’s beauty and positively stimulates their senses. Furthermore, gardening-related activities are good for your child’s social development.
Children with autism love uniformity – it’s safe and predictable. It’s also easier for them to process. Visual mismatches like jarring colors or patterns, on the other hand, can give them anxiety. Make sure your new house features a clean, uniform design to avoid pushing their buttons.
Order and cleanliness
Order and cleanliness are important (some kids are obsessive about cleanliness). Order helps your child feel comfortable, and cleanliness goes a long way to help your child cope with their sensitivity to smells and odors. Make sure you have plenty of room to organize your furniture neatly and tuck away the clutter out of sight.
You can make your child feel comfortable by keeping their sensory needs (or the lack) in mind. Some ways to make your child comfortable are providing sensory furniture, soundproofing their room, introducing natural lighting throughout the house, and making sure your house is odor-free.
Child-proofing and safety
Child-proofing the house is extra-important – self-injurious behavior is alarmingly common in children with ASD. Some ways to keep your child safe are installing alarms and railings, having visual signs everywhere, locking windows, and keeping hazardous items stowed away.
Children with autism report various medical problems, from sleep dysfunctions to seizures. As such, you may want to make sure the new house has enough room and provisions for your child. Some examples are easy accessibility (like in entrances and bathrooms) and room for therapeutic equipment.
With some careful research and hard work, you should be able to find (or design) a suitable house on a budget. To calculate your maximum budget, consider your annual income and savings. Other factors like down payments, your monthly expenses, and average home prices in the target neighborhood will also weigh in.
Making your child comfortable with the move
As we mentioned previously, children with ASD aren’t comfortable with moving. To many, it’s like having everything they know and love be snatched away (even if that’s not true). It’s important to consider your child’s emotional, mental, and physical needs during, before, and after the moving process.
Before the move
Broach the subject of the move with your child in advance. Be patient and calm, and make it seem normal – they will pick up on your energy. Introduce the house and moving process through visual aids like pictures and videos if you can. Walk them through what they can expect and calm their fears.
During the move
Make them a part of the packing and unpacking process. Do your best to continue providing the same routine and care they are used to – this will prevent them from feeling unsettled. Consider their safety during the move and unpacking. Consider hiring help or calling in the family to make it easier on them.
After the move
Make getting your child settled in a priority – it will help you settle in that much quicker. Surround them with familiar furniture, toys, and any items they’re attached to. Give them their same routines and rituals – bedtimes, the same mealtimes and playtimes, and the like – to make them feel at home in their strange new environment.
It will take time for your child to settle in and feel comfortable at their new place. They may want to talk and keep in touch with their old friends and revisit their old haunts, which should be encouraged. Some anxiety and discomfort are to be expected, but you can make it easier for them by offering reassurances and just being there for them.