Relocation & Children with Special Needs
My husband and I did not become parents in the most traditional way. Fifteen months, two international trips, and mountains of paperwork later, we met our then almost four-year-old son in an Eastern European orphanage. While we acclimated to life as a family of three quite well, we have faced our own unique struggles as we learned to support Lucas’s special needs.
In the more than four years since we brought Lucas home, we have moved three times. This does not include the initial flight from Bulgaria to the US. Relocation—whether a few miles or thousands of miles—is a big part of our family’s story. The difficulty of family relocation for a job or any other reason is even more palpable when your family includes a child with special needs.
While each situation is different, below are 4 simple tips to make relocation as smooth as possible for your child with special needs.
1. Prepare Your Child
Preparing your child will not guarantee a successful move, but it will go a long way in supporting your child’s need for routine and security. Start by exploring the idea of moving with your child, communicating in developmentally appropriate ways to introduce her to the idea. It may be helpful to get out maps to explain distance.
If you are able, make a special trip with her to your new location. Don’t combine this with other stressful trips, such as house-hunting or job interviews. Make this a fun, adventurous time for you and your child. If this is not an option, consider taking pictures while you are on a solo trip to your new location. Capture places you will frequently visit, such as playgrounds, schools, and the library. Share these pictures with her prior to moving.
2. Get Organized
Anyone parenting a child with special needs knows the amount of paperwork you accumulate. From individualized education plans (IEPs) and progress reports to medical evaluations and records, it is easy to stash it all in a long-forgotten drawer or closet, but these documents are critical to getting your child the services and support needed in your new location.
Knowing we were relocating mid-school-year, I committed myself to creating a master file of our son’s education and medical records. Laying everything out on my bed, I slowly pieced together each document chronologically to create one big file. Then I made copies for the new school district and doctors.
Once moved, I simply handed over a thick manila file to those who needed it. I was able to quickly get my son settled at his new school and jumpstart the process to obtain the services he needed by organizing myself.
3. Research, Research, Research
Now your files are organized and ready, but to whom do you give them? Even if you already know the school your child will attend, you will likely have to spend considerable time identifying new physicians, including specialty doctors, who are qualified to care for your child’s specific issues.
I am reminded of the story of The Mazzas who experienced a cross-country relocation with two sons, both diagnosed with a progressive neurological disorder. Sandy shared that “[t]he idea of starting over with doctors, medical supply companies, therapists, and schools…was completely overwhelming.”
It is overwhelming! Have you ever tried finding a pediatrician with experience in international adoption medicine in rural Pennsylvania? I have, and while I consider myself quite tech-savvy, I was not successful in my search. I spent hours upon hours researching new doctors. Every minute I spent Googling or on hold on the phone was time not spent with my family.
One service IMPACT Group provides for relocation families is research support. We are more than just a Google search. Our Research team combines years of experience in complex search methods and proprietary systems. We save our participants significant time from wading through thousands of options for doctors, schools, childcare, housing, and other amenities in a new area. Our researchers know who to contact within an organization to get an answer. We have cultivated relationships with companies in key cities. It’s a service I wish I had had for our first out-of-state move.
4. Use the Resources You Have
If you don’t have a research team at your disposal, look around at the available resources and enlist the community of support you have already cultivated. Inform those who work closely with your child of your upcoming relocation and incorporate them into the preparation process. School teachers and therapists who spend a significant amount of time with your child are well positioned to complement your efforts in preparing your child.
Are part of an online forum or Facebook group dedicated to your child’s specific diagnosis? Ask if any members live in your new location; someone may be able to save you research time by providing referrals.
Above all, give yourself, your child, and your entire family a little grace. Relocating is never easy and always involves sacrifice from each member of the family. By organizing yourself, taking the time to research, and involving others, you will set your child up for an easier transition to your new home.