Preparing for PCS with your Autistic Child
November 01, 2023
For autistic children, who often crave routine and “sameness,” the frequent moves that characterize the lives of most military families can pose particular challenges. This resistance to change often leads to anxiety and disruptive behaviors. But if given ample time to anticipate, understand, and practice dealing with anticipated changes, most children can learn to successfully cope with these transitions.
Here are some autism-specific strategies you can use to help your child anticipate and prepare for moving day.
As soon as you get your orders for a new duty station, begin a Social Story with your child. A Social Story is built around an event, places your child as the main character, and uses pictures and words that your child can understand. You can use your child’s name or simply use “I,” as if the child is reading the story in the first person. If possible, work together with your child to create a storybook, complete with lots of pictures and maps, that can be read frequently prior to your move. This will ease some of the anxiety tied to moving: flying in an airplane, having the movers box up your child’s belongings, moving into a new house, and having a new room. Be sure to discuss and have pictures of the new sights, sounds, people, and smells that will be associated with your move.
If your child thrives on a daily routine, it may help to have a picture schedule and calendar in place. At the same time each evening, have your child cross off another day on the calendar with a big “X.” This will help them understand the concept of days and “see” the moving day getting closer. Use the picture schedule to depict upcoming moving events: the day the movers will come, when you will move into temporary lodging, when you will get on an airplane or go on a long car ride, etc.
Amid all the stress of traveling during a PCS, you may encounter strangers who do not know what autism is. Have a few information cards on hand that explain autism, just in case you find yourself in the middle of a sensory-based meltdown in front of unsuspecting, and possibly judgmental, onlookers.
At least three months prior to your PCS, get a letter from your child’s physician verifying and specifying your child’s disability. You may need this for an airline, hotel, or other event that occurs during your move.
If your child has a preference for a certain color of cup, type of plate or eating utensil, don’t forget to pack these items. Several weeks prior to your trip, make a list of items your child cannot be without on a daily basis. You will thank yourself later!
If your PCS involves staying in a hotel or temporary lodging facility, you may want to prepare by staying one night in a nearby hotel for practice. If your child is a picky eater or if the thought of eating out in a restaurant every day is daunting, you may want to request a room with a kitchenette so you can make your own meals.
Following these tips will help your child transition during PCS. For more tips on moving or adjusting your child to a new environment, check out OAR’s Guide for Military Families.
This post was adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Military Families. Click here to order or download the guide.