It’s that time of year again – the time we all either love or hate, with no in between. PCS season is upon us, which means you will see U-Hauls gracing the sides of the road to either empty or fill the homes on your street.
Seeing all of the activity gets me thinking about how much planning and work goes into every PCS move, and how every family navigates their individual needs.
Our last two PCS’s have been Do-It-Yourself (DITY) moves. It was (mostly) a fun adventure for our family, and it was also a learning experience. My husband and I have three children, one of whom has autism (though we didn’t know it at the time). Our last PCS was particularly hard on him, and he acted out so terribly. But when we received his diagnosis, I gained a lot of insight into why he behaved the way he did, and I learned how I could better help him adapt in the future.
I learned a lot from our last PCS that might assist other special needs families. Here are some tips to make your PCS with your special needs child(ren) a bit easier:
Check off as many PCS to-dos as you can before you go: Believe it or not, you can accomplish a lot more than you think before you PCS. Try to get your kids school physicals done, new state shot records, secure permanent housing, and reserve temporary housing before you go. The more you can get done before the move, the easier life will be for everyone when you get to your new station.
Prepare a packing checklist of necessary items for the trip. Whether you have movers coming to pack up all of your stuff or you’re doing it yourself, you’re going to need some items to get by while you wait for your things to arrive at your new home (or while you are unpacking, which can take a while). For children with special needs, certain items can have a lot of significance when it comes to feeling at ease. Be sure to pack their favorite items – tablets, headphones, a favorite shirt and/or jacket, stuffed animal, blankets, etc. – to help them feel more at home during the transition.
Help your child prepare for the transition: Moves often mean that there will adjustments in routine. From time changes to new school schedules, it can be really hard for a child with special needs to adjust. My son thrives on his routine, and when we PCSed this last time, he had a very hard time adapting to all of the changes that took place in a short span of time (especially when our whole routine went up in smoke on the drive to the new area). Do some preliminary research on where you’re going – learn about the area, the weather, what to do, their new school, etc. – and start talking to them about what is to come as soon as you know you are PCSing. That way, they can be at least somewhat prepared to handle all of the changes to come, and you can better help them to do so.
Communicate your needs to personnel: If you are flying to your new station, be sure to alert the ticket agent that your child has special needs and that you need seating near a bathroom or an exit. You may also receive priority seating depending on the airline, meaning that your family can be one of the first ones to board. You may also want to alert your flight attendants so that they can better accommodate the needs of you and your child during the flight.
Take a printed copy of all of their records: Make sure to carry a folder containing their school records, including their IEP and/or 504 plans, and medical records with you in case they do not transfer right away. This way, you can start to find them needed services immediately upon arrival.
Give them their space: If we think long trips are hard for us, imagine how our children who are out of their routines are feeling. My son had a particularly hard time being in close quarters with all of us for long periods of time. When we got to the hotel each night after a long day of driving, our son would claim a bed and demand his space, sometimes to the detriment of his little sister’s feelings. Between him not being able to voice his feelings in a way that was easy to understand and my inability to comprehend what he was going through, it ended up being a point of contention the entire trip. I didn’t realize how hard of a time he was having, and to top it off, I let my emotions get the better of me. Not a particularly good mix. I started allowing my son to wear his noise-cancelling headphones and play his tablet during the car ride while sitting in the third-row seat of our vehicle for the rest of the trip after the second night of this. Whether it’s offering them the third-row seat of your SUV or their own corner of the hotel room at night, make sure you are allowing your child to have some uninterrupted time to unwind.
Take frequent breaks: Make sure to let everyone get out and stretch, use the restroom, and stop to eat when you can. Taking a break from the monotony of the open road can be welcome respite, and can help your child regulate themselves better. My family and I made our stops educational – we made sure to visit some museums and historic sites during our last PCS. This can be a fun distraction and can even spark an interesting conversation to keep everyone occupied when you all head back out on the road.
Jump into a routine immediately upon arrival: When we got to our new station, I immediately scheduled tours with my kids’ schools to get them familiar with their new teachers and environment, and got them registered even before we moved into our house. My children were able to start school and get some sense of normalcy within the first week of our move, which helped to establish new routines fairly quickly. Make sure to schedule all of your children’s introduction appointments with their new doctors and therapists as well. The sooner things go back to normal, the better.