Tips for moving to a new home from an autism mom

By Geege Taylor | September 23, 2019

Moving houses with a child who has autism can be difficult. Our children find comfort in the familiar, so the prospect of taking their home away sounds daunting.

Last spring, I began entertaining the idea of leaving my cozy home in a beautiful historic district to find a larger space. My 17 year-old son with severe autism was only getting bigger and I was looking to move his caregiver in someday as well. 

So, I decided to suck it up and move out to the sticks. I didn’t want to live in the sticks, but I couldn’t afford a larger house in town and I needed more privacy. 

Angie Dudley's son, Pootie

We looked at loads of houses but nothing was appropriate for Pootie’s specific needs. Lots of small yards, busy roads, yards without fences, neighboring houses too close by, dangerous swimming pools, and snooty neighborhoods that might not love our brand of craziness. It was a sign from God when we found home with 1,000 more square feet of space situated on an acre of land for no extra cost.  

Now Pootie is typically okay in un-familiar places for a wee bit of time. But when he discovers there are no swings, hammocks, trampolines or Yoo-Hoo’s, you better watch out. He begins to look for ways to leave and starts to get fussy. So I began to plan the move very strategically so that Pootie would hopefully walk into the new place, understand that it was his home, and want to stay. It wound up being a complete success, so I wanted to share my tips (many of these things would apply to traveling as well!) 

8 TIPS FOR AN EASY(ISH) MOVE: 

  1. Prepare your child. About a week before the move, I started telling Pootie “We’re going to a new house! Pootie’s new house!” I wasn’t sure what he understood, but I said it over and over again anyway. After we moved, I paired saying “Pootie’s new house!” with his favorite things...like the bigger yard, his new swing, his bedroom and the refrigerator. He seemed to understand and beamed with happiness. I waited for a meltdown, but it never came! 

  2. Try to send your child off for an overnight stay with grandparents or a caregiver the first night of the move if possible. If you can have a full 24 hours to get the house autism-friendly, your child will experience far less stress. When Pootie finally showed up, I felt prepared and everything for his world was in place. 

  3. Pack really well before the move. Use different colors of Sharpie’s for each room. For example, Pootie’s things were labeled “BEDROOM 1” in blue ink, along with a detailed description of the contents (such as “STUFFED ANIMALS.”) I used red Sharpie for labeling the most important items that needed to be unpacked first. 

  4. Arrange furniture immediately. Then designate one room (or garage) as a catch-all for the boxes of things that you’re not sure about (such as art and other decor that needs to find a place.) This way, you can pull things out as you have the time, and your house won’t be taken over by the chaotic clutter. I was able to deal with the loads of random crap without interrupting Pootie’s sense of order. 
  5. Schedule a handyman to come to the new house the morning after the move to install extra deadbolt locks if needed, hardware for swings, set up trampolines, etc. so that it’s safe, ready, and waiting for them when they first walk in. This was THE best thing that I did. When Pootie arrived, the place was like Fort Knox. 
  6. Pack a “weekend bag” (as if you were going on a trip) for yourself and your child. This way, clothes, diapers, medication, favorite snacks, and stim toys are all at your fingertips. Nobody wants to be looking through 50 boxes for some Melatonin at bedtime. 
  7. Have a few new toys and favorite edible treats on hand, the same way that you would prepare for long car rides. Let the new house seem to magically come with loads of rewarding surprises. Also, arrange to have their favorite meals for dinner the first few nights. Pootie was busting a three course dinner of: pasta, sweet tea, and more pasta the first night. Then out came a crazy bag filled with Mardi-Gras beads and Twizzlers. I mean, who wouldn’t want to stick around for all that?! He was one satisfied customer. 
  8. Have their new room completely set up before they arrive, and decorated just like their old room, if possible. Pootie didn’t miss a beat because of this. From night one, he put himself to bed, per usual, as if we had never moved. 

An unforeseen bonus came with the new house...there was no reinforcement history there. This means many bad habits could disappear as we were starting with a clean slate. For example, at the old house, Pootie tried to get into the kitchen cabinets 24/7 to binge eat. But in the new house, he has rarely tried to open them. I’m guessing it’s because the new cabinets look totally different. He used to get cabin fever and want to leave every day to go on long car rides. After three months in the new house, he has only ONCE wanted to leave. For whatever reason, I think that he would be happy to never leave our new place again! (with the exception of going to Chick-fil-A and Starbucks, of course.) 

You can learn more about Angie on her YouTube channel. 

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