It is no secret that parents want what is best for their children. Parents everywhere are constantly looking for the best school districts, the safest neighborhoods, and anything else that could lead to a better life for their sons and daughters. Parents of children with autism know this struggle all too well. Are there autism support groups nearby? Are the school district's special education programs up to par? There are a lot of different factors that you should consider when deciding on moving to help your child with autism.
Should You Move?
There are many reasons why a parent of a child with autism may choose to move. There may be a school district with better funded special education programs, or more robust special education services. In some unfortunate cases, bullying and a school’s handling of it may also play a role in making a move. Either way, if you believe that you need to move in order to enhance your child's education and day to day life, then it may time to start doing a bit of research.
Things to Consider when Moving
Your Finances - The reality is that moving can be very expensive. Even without considering buying a whole new house/renting a new apartment, you have to consider the cost of getting movers and buying boxes for your things. You should also contact a local real estate agency to try and get an appraisal of your house, so you have some idea of what it will sell for (and what your budget for a new house will be). If you are renting, you will just need to consider how much rent you can realistically afford.
Educational Opportunities - If you do end up moving, you obviously want your child's needs to be met at school. Be sure to research the school district you will be moving to and see what types of special education services they typically offer. Think about what you want to get out of your child's education. Is your child academically gifted and in need of rigorous and advanced classes? Does your child struggle and need special education classes and resources to help them succeed? These should all be considered when discussing a possible move.
When you are considering a school, there a few things you should do to make sure it is the right fit for your child. The first thing to think about is how your child will get to school. Will you be able to take them every day, or will they have to ride the bus? Do they have issues riding in cars and other public transportation? If so, you should discuss with the school and the bus driver to make sure they would be able to make your child as calm and safe as possible.
You also should request to see a list of the school's policies and procedures, special education needs policies, anti-bullying behavior, an annual report on their SEN and Ofsted report (most schools will have these online). You want to make sure that your potential school takes special education seriously and is properly equipped to help your child succeed in the classroom.
You should be sure to visit the school with your child before making a decision. At first you might want to arrange a visit after the school day so it isn't as crowded and busy. Ask to meet with the principal, the SENCO (special education needs coordinator) and the teacher who would be responsible for your student. Ask them prudent questions and be sure to discuss problems you know your child tends to have. They should be able to tell you how they normally deal with these problems.
It is also a good idea to try and sit in on some special needs classes (or standard classes depending on where your child will be learning). It may also be wise to talk to some of the school counselors in case your child has a problem and need someone to talk to. The most important thing is to trust your own and your child's instincts. If your child seems uncomfortable on more than one visit, it might not be the right fit (do keep in mind however that your child may be uncomfortable with any new school you take them to). If you feel uneasy about sending your child to the school, that could also be a major red flag.
The Neighborhood and Community - You want to find a community where you and your child can feel safe and secure. Things like lower crime rates would obviously be ideal, but you should also research homeowner's associations and their policies and procedures. Some homeowner's associations have very strict rules on noise levels and other things that might be difficult to follow if you have children. These types of associations tend to be very rigid and will likely cause issues for you and your child in the long run. Make sure to find a neighborhood that will be accepting of you and your child. You should also look for autism support groups nearby, and look for groups and activities your child might be interested in.
Tips for a Successful Move
Moving can be incredibly difficult on kids who are on the autism spectrum. They are forced to leave the home that they are comfortable in, their normal routines are all disrupted, and they are often overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of trying to get everything packed and ready to go. If you do decide that a move is necessary, you should be mindful to make sure that your child takes the transition as smoothly as possible. Here are a couple things that you can do to ease the minds of children with autism.
Tell them in Advance - A child with autism needs time to understand and prepare themselves for a move. Springing it on them a week in advance is a recipe for disaster. If you are thinking about a move you should briefly discuss it with your child to give them time to process the move.
Show Them Their New Environments - You should show your child the new house, their new room, and even their new neighborhood and school. A visit is often best to let them get acclimated to their surroundings, but showing them pictures can also work well.
Involve Your Child in the Packing Process - It may seem counterintuitive to involve your children in one of the most stressful aspects of moving. However, it is important that your child knows where their belongings are going, and where they will find their belongings when you get to the new house. You should try and keep their things separated and label the boxes to make it easier for them to find their things. This doesn't mean they need to help pack everything, just enough to understand what is happening.
Let the Child Help Clean Up - Giving your child small tasks to clean is a great opportunity to get them involved with the move. Be sure to talk to them about why you are emptying the house, and don't clean the house without them there. If the child comes home to an empty house without understanding what is going on, they may feel distressed.
Give Them Something to Look Forward To - A great way to get your child more comfortable during a move is to give them something positive about their new environment. For example, if the new home is closer to a favorite restaurant of theirs, you can point that out. You can also talk about some of the fun new groups and activities that they will be able to participate in. Moving may be seen as an overall negative experience for the child, so showing some positive aspects of the move may help reduce stress and make the child more excited about moving.
Help Them Keep in Touch - One of the hardest parts of moving for any child is leaving friends and family behind. If your child is especially close to certain people, you should be sure to help them stay in contact with that person after the move. If the move is long distance, try and talk to their friends' parents and organize a letter exchange or video chats. Seeing people from their past environment can really help kids who are homesick. Be sure to also help your child make friends in their new environment as well.
Your child's quality of life is a great concern, and sometimes moving is necessary to ensure your child's personal success. Make sure to really think about where you could realistically go and how it would benefit your child.