Moving house can be stressful for everyone, but for an autistic person it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety due to their need for routine and familiarity.

Here, we give advice on how to make the move more manageable, including explaining why the move is necessary, what it will involve and their role on moving day.

Why are we moving?

Talk about the reasons for moving, explain how the move is going to help make positive changes.  For example, you could say to a child "we’re moving so we have an extra bedroom/bigger garden/are closer to where I work." You could go into more detail, for example, "the bigger garden will mean you can play away from the noise of cars" or "I 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 may lead to them having more independence or improve their access to their preferred facilities/education/employment.

Point out the things that will stay the same eg “You will still have all of your belongings with you” as this may help them feel more secure.

The effects of the move

Write down the changes that are going to take place, taking into account all the different factors. A big move may mean a change in school, friends, local facilities and shops too. You will need to allow more time to prepare for change.

Bigger changes may not affect some autistic people as much as small and subtle changes.  For example, the fact that the front door is different, the light switches are not where they are used to or they can hear strange noises may affect them.

Remember that it’s important to make them aware of what is happening by preparing them in advance and, where possible, including them in the moving process.

What will the move involve?

You need to make sure that your autistic family member has an understanding of what moving house means as early in the process as possible. 

You can do this by:

  • giving them information in an accessible format such as visual supports, photos or by writing it down
  • gradually involving them in the idea by talking generally about moving, and then giving them updates as the move becomes closer.

Break the move down into stages by months, weeks and then the day of the move. Some autistic people enjoy knowing about details, from putting in an offer to exchanging, completion and what their role will be on the day of the move. 

Autistic people can have difficulty with sequencing the order of events and understanding time. Use visual supports and calendars to help them understand. 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.

 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

Moving house is a stressful time for everyone. For some autistic people 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 day’s activities.

For others, it may be better to be involved with the move on the day. Dependent on their level of understanding, find things they can do, such as helping to pack things from their room. This may help them to understand how their belongings were moved.

On the day of the move, 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

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

Last reviewed 12 April 2017