Moving house is stressful for most people, but for an autistic person, for whom routine is important, change can be very difficult and lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. In this section, we tell you how to move house more easily. We tell you how to make the move more manageable for someone on the autism spectrum, from talking to them and explaining the move, to using different ways to build up to the move and involve them in it. Depending on the person, different strategies may help.

Why are we moving?

Explain the reasons for moving. Be positive and highlight things that may help them understand that things are going to change for the better. For example, you could say to a child "we are moving so we have an extra bedroom/bigger garden/are closer to daddy's work." You could go into more detail, for example, "the bigger garden will mean you can play away from the noise of cars" or "Daddy may be able to spend more time at home with you". For adults you could explain how a move to supported living accommodation or residential service for example, may lead to them having more independence or improve their access to their preferred facilities/education/employment.

Also point out the things that will stay the same, if that is the case, as this may help them feel more positive and secure.

The effects of the move

Write down the changes that are going to take place. A move can be a small one of moving house within the same area, or it can be a big one of moving house and the area. Take into account all the different factors that may change. If it is a big move, the changes could include not only the house, residential service or school, but friends, local facilities and shops too. You will need to put in more time to prepare the person.

Bigger, more obvious changes may not affect some autistic people straight away. Small and subtle changes are likely to affect them more. For example, the fact that the front door is different, the light switches are in a different position or they can hear strange noises may affect them. In all cases, remember that it is important to make them aware of what is happening. Prepare them in advance for the change and, where possible, try to include them in the moving process. For example, you could get them to pack some of their things in boxes.

What will the move involve?

As soon as you know that you will be moving house, you need to make sure that the person on the autism spectrum has an understanding of what moving house means. Give them information in an accessible format such as visual supports, pictures, photos, objects, written or spoken word. When talking about moving, try to be consistent with your use of language to prevent or reduce confusion and possible anxiety.

Moving can be an uncertain process. It will help if you gradually expose the individual to the idea by talking generally about moving, and then giving them updates as the move becomes a reality and closer.

How to tell

Break the move down into stages and then into months, weeks and until the day of the move. Some autistic people enjoy knowing about details, from putting in an offer to exchanging and completion.

Key areas of difficulty for someone on the autism spectrum are sequencing the order of events and understanding time. Use visual supports and calendars to help understand the concept of time. It is probably best to wait until you have a definite date before doing this. Include a note close to the calendar or visual support that says things may change. By using ticks or covering up dates, calendars show the individual time left until the move.

Depending on the individual's level of understanding, story books that focus on the topic of moving house may help.

Social Stories™ are also a helpful way of providing information or put together all the information you have about your new home in one place and make your own book. You could call it 'Your new house' or 'Tom and his family's new house'. You can use this book to answer questions about moving. You could include:

  • Photos. Take photos of the house, the garden, their room and other rooms in the house.
  • Maps. Mark the house and other important landmarks on it, such as their school, the park, grandma's house, friends' houses and local shops. You may have to be specific and write directions from your new home to some of these places.
  • House layout. Where is their bedroom? Draw a plan of the house or do this with photos.

Finally, give the person the chance to visit their new home and include photos of their visit in your book.

Their role in the move and on the day

Talk about jobs they may have to do. For example, they could help to pack things from their room. This will depend on their level of understanding and ability.

Moving house is a stressful time for everyone. For some individuals on the autism spectrum, it may be better not to be present on the day. However, make it clear that they will be going to their new house on their return from the days activities.

For others, it may be better to be involved with the move on the day. This may help them to understand how their belongings were moved. If you do this, help them to understand their role on the day and explain who else will help and introduce them to any new people.

When you move, if possible, try to unpack their room first and arrange their furniture in a similar way to their old bedroom.

After the move

In order to keep the person's stress levels to a minimum, try to keep their routine the same as before. You may not notice behavioural changes immediately, but weeks after the move.

Further information and contact details

Search the NAS Library catalogue Autism Data for relevant reading.

The Help I am moving website includes information and tips for managing a move, as well as games and puzzles aimed at children.  

Send an enquiry to our Autism Helpline.


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Last reviewed 21 June 2017