Change is difficult for all of us — but for special needs children, a transition like moving to a new country can create significant upheaval and challenge. For most children, routine and sameness are helpful and grounding forces in their lives, and this is especially true of children with special needs. With some intentional preparation and planning, you can reduce the impact of your move abroad for your child. Acknowledging that each child will need something slightly different, here are some suggestions for where to begin.
Use Fun and Interesting Visuals to Help your Child Acclimate
Are you visiting your future home country in advance of the move? Take lots of photos, gather lots of pamphlets and information, and bring home a few items that will help your child begin to get an idea of what the country and town will be like. If you have a chance to visit your child’s new school, take photos of the teachers and the lunchroom. Take a video tour of the walk to school. Maybe even document the travel process, so your child will know what to expect on a plane ride if that will be a new experience. Immerse your child in his or her new world and begin to create excitement around the transition.
Continue With as Much Routine as Possible
The weeks around moving long distance with children are inevitably a bit chaotic — that’s just fact. For a child with special needs, the routine is often what keeps the world feeling manageable — so do whatever you can to keep as much routine as possible. Allow extra time for your packing and moving schedule to take walks, have meals as a family, or anything else that you have established as an important marker in your day. Avoid the temptation to let mealtimes or bedtimes slide, and save important items for last when packing to keep your home feeling safe and somewhat familiar as you prepare to leave.
Contact and Visit Doctors, Schools, and Other Professionals In Advance
Depending on your child’s needs, you know what professionals are important in his or her life. Reach out to find new practitioners in your new home town or city well in advance so that they are available and you have a support network as soon as you arrive. If your child has a handicap, those professionals will also be able to help you navigate your new home town’s transportation system as well as clue you into resources available to help you settle in smoothly. When departing, bring extra copies of charts, notes, and recommendations from your current practitioners to provide to your new ones. Avoid one of the common mistakes when moving with children: don’t rely on the doctors to do it for you.
Research, Research, Research
Do you have a good sense of how your future home works with special needs in the classroom and school setting? Would you be happy with what the public school provides or do you need to research private options? What about your insurance — will it cover the necessary support for your child once you are overseas? Avoid any unpleasant surprises by asking lots of questions before making your move.
Keep Familiar Comfort Things Close
Lastly, pack smart. If your family is shipping a lot of your belongings using a national moving company, take special care to pack your carry-on and checked luggage with the most important things in your child’s life. Medications and extra supplies need to stay close but also pack your child’s favorite clothing, toys, books, and other items to provide extra comfort on the journey.