My son doesn’t like noise, traffic, crowds, busyness, unexpected things happening or neighbours. He’s lived his whole 4 and a half years in the inner city, which is filled with all of the above. He’s spent months at a time preferring to stay inside our house, at times refusing to venture even into our back yard. A couple of months back, his anxiety reached the point that we were considering medication to help him.
Instead, we decided to try one very big change, even though he hates change more than he hates any of the above combined. We knew it would turn his world upside down, but we hoped the result would be a calmer little boy.
We made a tree change.
We said goodbye to our inner city lifestyle and moved out to a semi-rural village – admittedly one with some really ace coffee shops and pretty decent wifi.
We changed his environment in an attempt to improve his quality of life.
We told him three weeks before the move and the tears and outrage made us wobbly with second guessing our decision. His home is his anchor and we were about to pull up that anchor and take away his refuge.
I asked my trusted friends how they had managed moves with their autistic kids and I thought about how I have managed the many house moves I’ve made as an autistic adult. My coping strategy is to tunnel in deeply to planning mode, researching the location I’m moving to, its history and its services. I planned the move like a military operation and thought of NOTHING else for the weeks leading up to it. I could feel my brain edging closer to burn out, but I couldn’t stop.
My son’s way of dealing with it was very different to mine. His way was to enter deeply into his sadness and anger. He lost sleep. He fretted. He collected fluff compulsively from the old house to bring to the new. He didn’t want to see photographs of the new place or drive past it. Like many autistic children, he could see right through any attempts by us to influence his feelings about the new place. We knew well enough by now that promises of more yard space or more native animals would all be rejected outright, risking the chance that he would call a forever ban and never allow himself to enjoy those things.
So instead, we held him while he cried. We told him we understood his sadness. We understood his anger. I told him I don’t like moving either. We made no promises of how he would feel after the move, because honestly, we didn’t know. For three weeks his body and emotions moved constantly and I sat with my fear and guilt and apprehension and let myself move along with him. It made me feel physically ill and filled me with fear about what he might do on the day of the move.
On the morning of the move, I drove him to our new house. A house he had never seen and he was primed to reject.
There are trees everywhere. There is the quiet of nature and the smell of grass. There is birdsong.
He opened the gate, walked all around the inside and outside of the house and found a spot in the sun to sit. Each day he returns to that spot. He now recognizes the Rainbow Lorikeets that feed in the tree above this spot each afternoon. He has cockatoo friends and kookaburra friends and no people to get between him and them. Not once has he lamented leaving the inner city, which is surprising given how much he holds on to his feelings about change.
He was growing up in the wrong place, in the wrong environment for his neurology. We radically changed his environment. He is calmer. More content. For now, he won’t need medication.
He is autistic. He is anxious. That is the way it will always be. But here, he can avoid more of what he doesn’t need and take in more of what he does.
What can you change in your life to give your autistic children more of what they need and less of what they don’t?