Big Transitions: My Top 5 Tips
(A Big Change)
A few months ago, the adult decision was made to sell our home. Brian (former husband, confidante + co-parent) and I made this decision together.
At the forefront of our decision making was: what would be best for our family, and especially for our 12 year old daughter, Arizona.
Here’s a fact: when you have a child with autism, the most miniscule change in a daily routine can be highly traumatic. A big life transition like selling our family home surely needed BONUS time and energy to prepare for. It wasn’t smooth or easy, but our investment in the process has made such a difference, for all of us.
To that end, here’s what worked for us and consequently are my top 5 tips for prepping your child for a big transition:
1. Discuss: If there are other people involved (outside of your child) talk about how you want to present the news or talk about the upcoming change. Write down or discuss what you anticipate your child’s worries to be. *Note: big transitions for your child can also be big transitions for you. This step allows you to start the processing for yourself!
2. Share the News: In our case, Brian and I decided to share the news as a united front. We simply said (without extra drama or emotion): “Arizona, we have news.” Of course this triggered an immediate worry, which she was able to express verbally: “What? What’s wrong? Why? What happened? When is it happening?” We stated the facts: “We have made the adult decision to put our house on the market. We have discussed the different options and this is what we have decided to be best for our family.” *Note: always talk about what you know for sure. What we DID know for sure is that we were putting our house on the market. What we didn’t know for sure was if it would sell and when. Focus on what the facts are, in the present moment. “Arizona, our house will be on the market starting February 4.” This allows for processing to take place in steps.
3. Let’s Talk / Write / Sing About it! If you know me by now, you know how much I advocate for everyone to express their feelings. I learned the importance of outward expression during our family’s therapeutic time at Cheerful Helpers Child & Family Study Center. I think we often brush our children’s feelings under the rug: “Oh they’re okay, it’s not a big deal.” And we push them through, at a pace they are not quite ready for. After discussing the news with Arizona (above), there were A LOT of big feelings that needed to emerge. “NO, you can’t sell this home, this was supposed to be my forever home!” she wailed and cried. We listened (a lot) and then bit by bit started dissecting the worries. We also talked about all of the things that would be present no matter “where” we lived. But mostly, we sat and listened to Arizona and let her express, over many days and weeks. The first night after we shared the news, I took out a piece of paper, sat down with Arizona and said, “Okay. What’s important for us to have in a new home?” She took her time to think about it. “Toilets without automatic flushers” (check). “Space for me to do my art.” (check). “Oh and most importantly, we need to have Netflix.” (Gotcha, baby girl – check).
4. Rally the troops!: Also in our case, it was important to share how WE shared and processed with Arizona to our immediate outside world. Certainly, Arizona’s 1:1 behavioral aide at school got the low down right away. But we also shared updates with our close friends, family members and our amazing realtor (who also happens to be one of my besties). All of this was purposeful in helping Arizona process the big unknowns with a supportive community around us. A family friend’s daughter, age 14, shared with Arizona how hard it was for her to move a few years prior. It definitely takes a village, so if you HAVE one, utilize them! Everything helped.
5. Invest in the Process: Lastly, but most importantly, just know that as autism parents our consistency and patience is key. There were many moments when I wanted to snap at Arizona and say, “This is just the way it is!! Everything will be fine! Stop complaining! You have an amazing life!” But I also knew that her transition would never reach completion if she couldn’t get all of her feelings out. Commit to investing this time and energy up front. It will be worth every. single. second.
I write this as I am sitting in our new rental, about a 15 minute drive from our family home that was sold last month. It is our 5th night sleeping here and so far, Arizona has transitioned as smoothly as we could have hoped for.
We were lucky enough to have spent some time in the new home before we moved in; slowly bringing toys and other prized possessions in steps.
On moving day, Brian picked up Arizona from school and brought her to the new house. She and I had our first “sleep” here that night.
“Mama, it really already feels like home, mama. I’m a little nervous tonight because it’s something new, but it’s our home, mama. Right, mama?”
I spent some extra time in her room that night, on her bottom bunk. “Home is wherever we are,” I told her. And, I think she finally understood that.
Transitions (big and small) can be so tricky! I would love to hear what your tips are for helping your child with special needs process change. How do you help your child get through their worries and the unknowns? How has this changed your perception for your own needs around change?