Catholic Sistas » perspective from the neck

Masthead header

Moving as a Special Needs Family

The process of moving a family is a huge undertaking. For a typical family it can be stressful, anxiety inducing, and full of the complexities that come with transferring a family to a new residence. The additional complexities that come with having a special needs child (or several in my case) can make the task quite overwhelming. This is where faith, organizing, and a good support system come in.

Three of my children have special needs and we are facing moving in the very near future. I am grateful that I have some experience under my belt already. Just over two years ago, I moved my little family across the country from North Carolina to California. My oldest was 12, and my youngest was about a year old and still breastfeeding. I drove the kids in the van, and my mom followed behind with our dog and the household goods in a truck. I like to think of it as an adventure. Thankfully, we won’t be repeating that adventure, and I am grateful that everything went so smoothly with some planning and thinking ahead.

Some of the planning begins even before we find the right place to live. Safety and accessibility to resources are essential components, not just enough rooms and square footage.

Location

Location is important for us. I want my kids to be in a safe place, but also to have things easily accessible to them like their schools and other resources. For many families with special needs children living out of town, or far from doctors and specialists, can be a life or death situation. Often a family will move to be certain to have these accessible to their children. Within my own daughter’s class, the parents were conversing just the other day about their choice of neighborhood because of the schools that it would allow their child to go to that give the most comprehensive services for their child’s needs. My initial move from the East Coast to the West Coast was for exactly this reason. Within the special needs community, it is extremely common for this to happen. Being a caregiver can be extremely demanding at times and having the resources available to your child can be essential to the well-being of the family as a whole. So for us it isn’t always just about what house we’ll fit into and can afford, but the location within distance to the resources that are needed. It can be very complex and stressful at times. Having to begin with new doctors, therapists, and specialists is a full-time job when you have more than one child with special needs. In my own situation, I am hoping to keep my children within the same school district so that we don’t have to change schools, services, and start from ground zero.

Education and Services

The complexities that come with children with IEP’s also adds a dimension to moving. My oldest child just had his first IEP meeting for high-school last week, and I’m hoping against hope to be able to keep this particular school within reach. For him, moving and beginning from ground zero after arriving in California was a bit of a traumatic experience. We went through some very difficult emotional and behavioral issues, which resulted in having to slowly integrate him back into a public school setting. It took 6 months. He’s made friends now, is doing very well academically, and has resources and specialists that he knows he can depend on for help when he needs it. As a child gets older, who has intellectual and/or learning disabilities, it doesn’t always get easier to handle change. The child may develop more understanding and hopefully develop better coping skills, but it is a very delicate balance. Introducing new things, or too many changes at once, can be overwhelming. Have you ever experienced a man sized-child meltdown in public? It is stressful for everyone involved. If I can avoid upsetting the delicate balance in the household by keeping things as steady and dependable as possible, that is what we aim for.

Preparation

I like to prepare my kids as much as is possible for all big events. Moving is no different. We talk about the move, when it will happen, and what will happen. This is a practical part of our daily life and working on executive functioning skills. These are the skills that you and I use everyday to function in our home, school, and the community. But we practice and prepare purposefully to be ready for things. I’ll give them a general time frame, and make a point of being as open with them as possible, and appropriate, for their age. No one likes things being sprung on them, especially something big like a move.

Home Accessibility and Safety

Depending on what your child’s disability is, you will have to consider aspects about the housing that you are moving into. Is it going to be accessible and safe for my child/children? What precautions do I need to take ahead of time to make it safe? I have two children that are escape artists and bolt out open doors. Do I need to install extra locks on doors? Are there doorways, or stairwells that will need gates to keep someone in a safe area? Do we need locks on windows and cupboards? Door knobs that need locks installed or to be replaced altogether to prevent escaping? If you have a child with a wheel chair, can a ramp be installed if you are not at ground level? These are just a few examples of the practical things that need to be considered for a move.

Support System

Having a good support system and trusting that God will be with you through it all are the essentials. You can’t control every aspect of a move, and what may unexpectedly happen. I’ve learned that first hand, things happen that can’t be helped. Having friends or family to lean on is great, even if you need someone just to talk to and lean on. As special needs parents, we know that having someone in a similar situation can be essential to saving our sanity at times. Parenting kids with special needs can sometimes be isolating and lonely. Moving and still caring for a child or children with special needs adds a dimension that is very complex to something that is already a stressful situation. If you don’t have support, I would suggest searching out support in the place where you hope to relocate to. Don’t be afraid to ask for prayer over your situation, as most special needs families that I’ve met have great faith and are wonderful prayer warriors. Sometimes practical help, like having more people around to move things is not what you need, but moral and spiritual support is. Lean on your friends for this.

Trust in God

God knows and sees in our situation and knows our needs even more than we do ourselves. Keeping this in mind, we can go to Him when we feel uncertain, stressed out, angry, or whatever the emotion may be. We do our best, and we need to leave to Him the rest. If there is anything I’ve learned in the last few moves that we’ve made, it’s that sometimes things don’t go as planned (or even close to it), but they do always work out somehow for our good.

Lord, we place our upcoming transitions in your hands! St. Joseph, pray for us!

About Celeste Bowen

Celeste calls California’s wine country home. She is a mother of four, artist, blogger, and special needs advocate.