Tips for Relocating with a Special Needs Child

Whether you are moving to the other side of the world or across the street, moving is stressful. In fact, research shows that moving to a new home is the third most stressful life event with only divorce and death of a loved one ranking higher.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 43 million people move each year. The Census Bureau also states that the average moving customer is a couple between the ages of 22-44 with one or two children ages 2-11. While it may be comforting to know there are other people with screaming and kicking children who don’t want to leave their BFF behind, it certainly does not make the stress and guilt of moving any easier.

If you are a parent, you know that getting your kids to do anything they don’t want to do is a challenge. But if one of those children happens to have special needs, doesn’t like change and craves structure, the stress of moving reaches a whole new playing field. I know because we have moved three times in the past three years, and my son has Asperger’s – high functioning autism. Before you start packing, read the tips I put together below that hopefully will keep a few less stress lines from forming on your forehead.

Know When Enough Is Enough
Kids feed off our stress. When you are overtired, short-tempered and stressed, they know it and start to feel the same. Of course, muttering expletives under your breath when you drop the box of good china is also a dead giveaway, but that is not the point here. Your to-do list may be a mile long, but your child may need your attention even more now. For everyone’s benefit (including your own), know when it is time to call it a night. Stop packing and read a book with your kiddo. The boxes will be there in the morning – trust me!

Organize Medical and School Records Beforehand
In addition to the regular documentation that the new school will require – such as proof of vaccinations and transcripts – put together a list of your child’s diagnoses, prescriptions and all accommodations or modifications that may be included in their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Then ask your current doctors or therapist to write a short letter stating their conditions, current status and suggestions for the future. Put the list, the letters and a copy of the actual IEP in a plastic file folder or binder, and make sure the movers don’t take it! Hand carry this folder with you because you never know when you may need it. It is also a good idea to ask your doctor to give you a 90-day prescription of any meds your child may be taking so you don’t have to rush around trying to get them filled when you get to your new home town.

Last Out, First In
Try to pack your child’s room last and unpack his room first in your new home. Although the idea of redecorating and getting new things may seem exciting to some kids (like my daughter who insisted on us painting her room lavender with some funky zebra stripes), to a special needs child, change is not easy. So with that in mind, aim for making their new room look similar to what it was before. We even went so far as to repaint the beautiful soft blue walls of our boy’s new digs a drab beige since that was the color of his old room. When we were done, it looked as if we had just picked up his old room with a crane and dropped it into our new home. My son could not have been happier. His room is his safe place, his sanctuary, and something he knows in an environment he is not sure of. When put like that, it makes me rethink buying a new comforter set for my own bed.

Make a Bribe Box
I have said it before, and I will say it again: I am not above bribing my kids. Hey, if a promise of a new Doctor Who DVD makes it okay for me to pack up all his other ones, so be it. But you have to have the bait already. Do yourself a favor and put together what I call – for lack of a better term – a Bribe Box. It does not have to be filled with expensive new toys or gadgets. Put in it a new book you know they will enjoy, sidewalk chalk, bubbles – whatever your child will consider a prize. You will be amazed how much unpacking you can get done while your child happily decorates the new driveway with pretty chalk drawings.

Find a New Support Group
This may be the best advice I can give you. Use the internet and get in touch with a special needs parent group in your new city or town. The best recommendations for doctors and therapists I have ever gotten have come from other parents. Many organizations also have outings and events which will allow both you and your child to meet new people. Don’t know where to begin? Contact your local public school parent resource center, search for Yahoo groups or check out

If you have a move coming up, I won’t lie to you. You are in for a few rough months. But if you follow these tips, stay calm and remember to breathe, it won’t be as bad. Oh, and don’t forget to pack the aspirin, because you are bound to need it sooner or later!

Sharon Fuentes

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