My husband and I had no intention of moving. I am a Realtor and what I have in my condo, my block, and my neighborhood is golden! For us, we were settled. Then, COVID hit. (Insert eye roll.)
After realizing it was time for more space, I started my strategic timeline. My oldest is diagnosed with autism and before COVID, he made great strides to be more flexible. However, when COVID hit, his entire world stopped. All the anxiety around everyday changes came crashing back. In some ways it is worse than before. With that in mind, I had to take a step back and listen to some of my own advice, which is usually given to my real estate clients who have special needs children.
Considering this, COVID has raised a little anxiety in all of us so change is hard for everyone right now, especially children, and especially children with special needs. Your current home is their constant in an ever-changing world. Your current home is a place of safety and tranquility in a world that seems, at times, upside down. So this is a big change and needs to be approached with care.
As a Realtor and mother of a special needs son, here are some tips I have told my clients.
Start a casual conversation around the idea of a new space.
Perhaps ask, “Wouldn't it be nice to have a basement so you guys have more space to play?” Or ask, “If you could have your own room, how would you decorate it?” Use whatever narrative that is personal to your situation. This plants a seed, so when you bring up the subject in the future, it is not a surprise.
If you can, give your child(ren) a voice in the process.
Ask them to design what their new home may look like. Ask them to choose three neighborhoods they would like to live in and why. This will allow your children to take some ownership in the process.
If you already know the areas you want to move to, consider putting shallow roots in those areas.
Personally, my family is in this part of the process. My husband and I have discussed the three neighborhoods we would move to. Two out of the three neighborhoods are new for our family. So, we have switched some of our extracurricular activities into the two new neighborhoods we are considering. Weekly, we choose a different restaurant to patronize in the new neighborhoods. This is a natural, no-pressure way to explore the neighborhoods, and allow your kids to get to know the potential new neighborhoods. We also signed our kids up for activities at the park district in the new neighborhoods. This is a natural way to make connections with kids in the neighborhood.
Create a social story for each part of the entire process.
This will be like a chapter-book social story, for which each "chapter" (e.g., "highlights" on Instagram) is a different part of the moving process. If your current home is to be put on the market, create a chapter around staging and showing your home. Create a chapter on packing up your current home; create a chapter documenting any construction or repairs needed in your current or new home before it can be placed on the market. Finally, create a chapter for the actual move day(s) to the new home. Really think through each step and create chapters in the moving "story" that your child can watch and re-watch as they wish.
When you are under contract on a property and close to closing, ask your Realtor to set up a time for you to allow your special needs child to do a “sensory walk through.”
I have done this for my clients and usually ask for a two hour block of time. This allows my clients to walk their child through their normal ADLs in the new space. Let them open the cabinet where their favorite snack will be. Let them fill up their water bottle from the refrigerator. Let them touch the walls, turn on the lights, check out the closet in their new bedroom. In their new bathroom, turn on the lights, the vent, the shower, and flush the toilet to let your child feel the water pressure and hear the noise level of the flush and vent. Whatever is an important or part of your child’s everyday routine, take the time to role play and let them feel the space.
Does this mean that the buying and selling process may take longer? Yes it may. The suggestions above may or may not work for your special needs child, as every child is different. The fact of the matter is that moving is a major change that is hard for everyone, and if you have special needs child, you may need to take a step back to help support them through this change.