With the big move finally behind you, the next step is making sure your child with autism settles into their new home and routine. Your child may find all the changes overwhelming. Here are a few tips for expat parents with autistic children, to help children feel calm and supported as they get used to the transition.
Important tips for expat parents with autistic children
Get into a routine
After the chaos of moving abroad with autistic children for expat parents it can be hard to get into a routine. Between unpacking boxes that seem to multiply, an administration that’ll make a bureaucracy proud, and getting used to a whole new country; it may be tempting to slouch around eating takeout and fighting off jet lag with cat naps. However, the quicker you get into a routine, the better it is for your child on the spectrum. Kids with autism thrive on structure; knowing what comes next reduces anxiety. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start small by sticking to set meals and bedtimes, and make a point of getting outdoors for exercise each day.
Find support right away
Speaking of overwhelmed, the most important thing you can do for your child (and yourself!) is to find support straight away. You probably moved away from your entire support system—without grandparents, friends, and your child’s therapy team, you’ll be shouldering a very large responsibility. If you find a local support group, even if it is online, you may find coping a lot easier. Support groups can help with recommendations (for schools, doctors, and local activities of interest to your child) and it’s a great place to vent when the going gets tough.
Get sensory issues sorted
Your child will feel overwhelmed and stressed just like you. Going through a move and the subsequent settling period will take its toll. Reduce anxiety created by sensory overload with a few adjustments to your child’s new environment. Make their bedroom a haven of calm and serenity. Introduce new foods, like local specialties, slowly making sure your child is not overwhelmed by all the change and novelty.
Incorporate calming activities from their ‘old life’ and keep surprises to a minimum by always talking through what is happening next. Recognize that your child’s been through a lot—keep the excitement to a minimum while they adjust. Reduce anxiety by limiting elements that trigger sensory difficulties. If they’re sensitive to light, make sure you get their bedroom fitted with block-out blinds straight away—sleep deprivation will exacerbate anxiety.
Don’t lose touch
It’ll take a while to make friends and settle in to a whole new social circle. Children with autism struggle with social interaction; for parents big move probably removed them from hard-won connections. To ease the transition while making new friends, ensure they feel connected by arranging video calls with grandparents and friends from home. Ask family members to send postcards and photos and give them to your child when he/she feels homesick. Assure your child that old friends will always have a place in your life, and be positive about meeting new friends once you’ve found your feet.
A big change like moving to a new country for expat parents with autistic children is scary, we want things to run smoothly straight away to reassure ourselves that it was the right move. Almost every ex-pat will crush your hope of fitting in right away. It takes time, sometimes tears, and a bit of grit to get settled. Even more so when you have a child with special needs. Be receptive to your child’s feelings of sadness and frustration; he/she may vent these feelings through meltdowns and tantrums. Be patient with your child, yourself, and the situation; soon you’ll really mean it when you put down the “home, sweet home” doormat.
By Yolande Loftus, BA, LLB
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