Moving with Special Needs Kids – A Guide for Parents
Moving is at once stressful and exciting. When you are moving with children, you face a number of considerations that others don’t have to face. When you add a special needs child to the mix, you have a lengthy list of additional things you have to do to make the transition as smooth as possible. Here are some tips to help you with the moving process, ensuring that your child’s needs are met throughout it.
The following article is written by from an American perspective but many of the aspects are worth looking into, wherever you may be.
Moving with Kids in a Wheelchair
When moving with a child who is in a wheelchair, accessibility is going to be your biggest challenge. Unfortunately, moving often means spending a little bit of time in temporary housing, with hotels or friend’s homes often not having the accessibility you need. Scout out places to stay ahead of time to ensure your child will be comfortable during the move.
In your new home, accessibility may be a challenge at first. While in a perfect world you will find a home that is fully accessible, reality means you may have to make some accommodations as you modify the home to meet your child’s needs.
Throughout the move, it’s easy to get sidetracked with all that you have to do. Make sure that you are keeping your child’s safety as a top priority. Do not neglect the safety measures you would normally take to keep your child protected.
Finally, if your child is old enough to want to help, find a safe way for her to do so. Whether packing linens or keeping a checklist, get your child involved in what is happening whenever possible.
Moving with Kids with Sensory or Emotional Disorders
Moving is chaotic and frenzied. Everyone is stressed out, and the environment your child is used to is going to be a mess, including extra noise and extra visual input. For children with sensory and emotional disorders, this can be a recipe for a problem. Here are some considerations to make.
- Be prepared for meltdowns. – Life isn’t normal and comfortable for you, so imagine how intense it will be for your child! Be emotionally prepared for more meltdowns during this challenging time.
- Keep a sensory safe place – Keep a sensory safe place in your home as long as possible, and set it up in your new home as soon as you can. If necessary, stay in a quiet hotel for the days of the actual move to make your child more comfortable and avoid undue emotional or sensory stress.
- Keep familiar items near – A lovey, blanket or other familiar item can be greatly calming to a child with sensory or emotional regulation disorders. Keep a bag packed with these types of items to help your child stay calm. If your child uses a weighted blanket, keep it with you to encourage better sleep.
- Keep your child informed – Be open and honest about what is happening and what your child can expect. This may help reduce the emotional and sensory trauma.
- Take breaks – Your child is going to need some breaks from the chaos. Give yourself the freedom to take those breaks if you can.
Think about how unsettling the process ahead is for you. Now, remember that your child senses and feels much more deeply, and does not have the emotional fortitude to regulate those feelings like you do. This will give you the compassion you need to get through the days ahead.
Moving with Non-Neurotypical Children
Children with autism or other neurological disorders are going to feel very unsettled during a move. Here are some tips to make the move a little easier for everyone involved.
- Give your child plenty of time to process the idea of the move older children may need a month or more to process this information.
- Show picture of the new house and community, if you can get them.
- Create visual schedules of moving, so your child has something to look at to remember what is coming next.
- Know your child’s tendencies, and keep safety in mind. If your child climbs or wanders, make sure that the moving day does not create a risk with boxes stacked high or doors left open.
- If possible, have someone who can help watch your child for most of the moving day, if not all of it. Consider allowing your children to go to a grandparent’s house to stay for a few days, if it is convenient.
- Create Social Stories to help your child with the transition.
- Keep a comfort kit with foods your child accepts and fidgets that help during times when your child feels agitated.
- Let your child pack her favorite comfort items last on the day of the move, with the box carefully marked so you can find it easily when you arrive.
- Get to know your neighbors, and let them know what your child’s needs are. Make sure they have your contact information, in case they see your child in need of your help.
- Try to keep your routine the same as before the move, if at all possible.
- Prepare for the fallout from your move, including meltdowns and stimming behavior, to show up weeks after you move.
Finding a School
When you have a special needs child, your child’s school is one of the most important factors of life in any community you reside in. It’s at school where a child will receive the necessary services to help him reach his full academic and, at times, social potential, including services specific to the disability, so the school is an important piece of the puzzle.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, all public schools have to provide free, appropriate public education to all children, even those with disabilities. However, this law sets the minimum requirements for specific disability types, and it does not mean that you will be happy with the services offered or the accessibility of the facility. If you have some flexibility in which community you will move to, consider checking out the local schools and their special education program before buying or renting a house. Remember, IDEA is the minimum, and sometimes, you want more than the minimum requirement for your child.
As you look at schools, here are some factors to consider:
- Will the school accept your IEP? – The answer to this depends on the school and how far you are moving. If you are moving within the same district, your IEP will likely transfer. If you are moving to a different district but the same state, you may be able to transfer your IEP, unless the school wants to develop a new one. If you move to a different state, you will likely have to start much of the process over, including evaluation for less obvious disabilities to determine eligibility.
- Does the school have the basic accessibility for my child? – As you well know, accessibility in terms of the law does not always mean accessibility practically speaking. For children with mobility concerns, this is particularly important. Take time to tour the school and determine if your child’s needs will be met well.
- Do you feel the personnel will be easy to work with? – Talk to the special education teachers, and choose a school that you feel comfortable with.
- Are private options available? – Is there a private school you could afford that would meet your child’s need? Is it worth considering?
- Is appropriate transportation available? – If your child needs specialized transportation, make sure that the option is available. Each community will have its own way of addressing special needs transportation, so see if you can find a school that offers the transportation type that your family is most comfortable with.
Before you move, contact the local Department of Special Education in your new state to learn about policies, procedures and eligibility requirements. Also, contact the local school district. Request an appointment for the first week you arrive at the new location, if you are moving during the school year.
Not all parents will have the luxury of school choice when moving, but if you do, take advantage of it, and choose a school that will help your child excel.
Finding a Doctor
A doctor you trust can also help you feel settled in your new location. Finding a doctor who under stand’s your child’s special need is not always easy. While all doctors should be professionals and should be able to diagnose and treat various conditions, as you know, not all doctors make you, as a parent, feel comfortable with your child’s care. Here are some tips to help you find a doctor as you move.
- Ask for a referral – If you like your existing doctor, ask if the practice has a referral in your new location. If you aren’t moving far from home, you might be able to get a referral.
- Contact a local disability support group – If a referral is not possible, look for local groups for parents of disabled children. The other parents will be able to point you in the direction of a caring and supportive doctor.
- Send your child’s records ahead – Once you’ve narrowed down your options, send your child’s records. Giving the doctor a chance to look at your child’s prior tests and diagnoses before meeting you will help the initial meeting go well.
- Schedule a consultation – Schedule consultations with several doctors, and see which one makes you feel the most comfortable and at ease. As you talk to the doctor, see which one seems the most knowledgeable about your child’s conditions.
- Ask about coordinated care – Make sure the doctor is able and willing to coordinate care with therapists and other providers so your child will have the right care at all times from a team that is working together for your child’s success.
When you find the right doctor, you will know. Don’t hesitate to make a change if you feel after a few visits that the doctor is not meeting your child’s needs well.
Choosing a Home
Before you buy a home, take time to consider your child’s specific needs. It may be easier to find a home that is accessible or in an area that meets your child’s sensory or emotional needs than it will be to retrofit a home to meet your child’s needs.
When choosing a home for a child with special needs, be sure to consider:
- Mobility issues – If you have a child who is mobility challenged, make sure the home is easy to navigate, including having bedrooms on the main floor. Consider various accessibility issues.
- Sensory issues – Children with sensory sensitivities may need a home on a quieter street. Watch out for noisy neighbors, including dogs that bark, that could upset your child’s sensitivities.
- Non-neurotypical concerns – Children who are autistic or who have other non-neurotypical conditions may need a home with a fenced in yard to protect them from wandering. Other considerations will vary based on how your child’s neurological differences manifest.
- Storage for medical equipment – If your child has medical equipment, make sure the home has enough secure storage for it. If necessary, look for a home near a storage facility for larger pieces of equipment you don’t use regularly, or to store other household items to free space for your medical equipment needs.
Talk to your real estate agent about your specific needs, so you can find a home that will be comfortable for all of your family members, including your special needs child. Remember, this transition is going to be a challenge, so do what you can to minimize the challenge wherever possible.
Preparing for the Move
There’s a lot to do when preparing for a move, but when you have a child with special needs, that list seems to be endless. This checklist for preparing for a move with special needs children may help make it feel a little less overwhelming.
- Provide your new address to all important professionals, like your child’s school and doctor.
- Get updated medical and school records. Duplicate all records so you have more than one copy.
- Create a notebook to rack all of the special needs activities you are handling.
- Ask the professionals, including teachers, therapists and counselors, who work with your child to write letters to the new professionals about their experiences with your child.
- Make any appointments you will need and have them before you move, so you can have a little time to find a new doctor, dentist, eye doctor or therapist.
- Call the Social Security department at 1-800-772-1213 to learn about SSI benefits in the new state, if you are moving out of state.
- Fill prescriptions to give yourself one month’s supply of all needed medications.
- Contact the Department of Special Education and the school to set up evaluations and meetings when you arrive.
- Find and contact a local disability support group.
- Keep records with you so you have access to them even before you begin unpacking.
- Contact the necessary insurance agencies to ensure your child will have uninterrupted medical coverage.
- Start preparing your child for the changes ahead.
Settling in to a New Normal
When you are a family with a special needs child, it is going to take longer to settle in to your new home. Be prepared to provide assurance and comfort during the transition time. Remember to adjust medications, if needed, to help your child stay relaxed and comfortable.
As soon as possible, start building your support group in your new location. Disability advocacy organizations can help you find people with children like yours who can provide support and care, when needed. Don’t forget to get in touch with support professional your child is going to need.
Allow your child to stay in touch with old friends, if possible. Utilize video chat and phone calls when letters won’t suffice. You may notice your child transitioning to new friends, and this is good, but don’t cut off the old relationships if they are wanted and needed.
Finally, especially for children with neurological or emotional needs, be prepared for problems to show up long after the move. It’s possible for your child to start to exhibit anxiety and behavior changes long after you feel settled. Give your child time, and provide the emotional and physical help your child needs during this transition.