Editor’s note: This article has two authors, Jen Bluhm and Leonardo Yeats. It has two very different stories of moving and demonstrates how much diversity there is among autistics. Part I is Jen’s tale, and Part II is Leo’s.
Part I: Jen
My experience of moving has been very challenging. I am a neurodivergent (ND) mother of ND children, and I have an ND husband. Moving is considered to be one of the top 5 most stressful events in a person’s life. I think for a neurodivergent person, it is one of the top 3.
In our particular case, we also had a home to sell. It was an old home in a highly-desired neighborhood for the young hipsters of NE Minneapolis. We had to invest a lot of money, time, and effort into getting it ready to sell.
The issue for my family is that we also have the disability system to navigate as well as being vigilant concerning IEPs and mental health treatment, along with chronic illnesses and conditions.
You might be thinking, this would be difficult for anyone to manage, and you are HELL‑A* correct. Even if I peel away the layers and complexity of our specific situation, I can explain why this was most certainly more challenging due to my neurology and the neurology of my family.
- The whittling down of items that are necessary to keep the house running, while stripping it of anything that looked like people live in it, was unbearably difficult. Yes, we lived in it the whole time it was on the market. Personal items that brought comfort in their familiarity were packed away and put into a portable moving system that sat in the street outside our house.
My kids, though they are all in love with technology, retreated from any other activities that they enjoyed because of the work being done and the need to make the house look hipster-ready.
This sorting and planning and donating and boxing and storing process required so much from this Multiply-Neurodivergent mom (and her family). There was a lot of buying new versions of what I knew we had SOMEWHERE, but couldn’t access.
That part was hard for me. I wasn’t in charge of the process from start to finish, and though I have a pretty excellent visual memory, having other people involved was hard. There was so much eating out and delivery. We have a long list of allergies and sensitivities to foods that we couldn’t begin to address or maintain, so we FELT sick.
- Extra-Familial persons in my house and on my property. When I get overwhelmed, I have a hard time keeping boundaries. That overwhelm began the week we decided to move. Contractors, cleaners, and installers started showing up unannounced.
One of my ways of coping, is to mask like a mofo and try to talk to these people like I had frickin’ invited them while hiding my anxiety attack. I can’t stop.
These people know way more about my life than they could ever care to, and as I poured out, the overwhelm increased. Even people I’ve known for years felt like invaders. I felt like I was drowning. Did I mention that the three children were all on Spring Break?
Yeah, this introvert wanted to run screaming into the night.
- Being away from the home during showings was nightmarish. Okay, if having too many people around me for an extended period of time is like Complex PTSD, having to move a family of five neurodivergent people into a hotel for 3 straight days was a specific traumatic event that threw me into a shutdown of epic proportions.
I make light of it to keep myself from exploding in anger about the assumptions that are made that this was no big deal in the larger scheme of things. Neurodivergent people are typically very complex creatures.
Differences in sensory needs are a major, if not THE major factor in our family’s relationship struggles. Seekers and Avoiders don’t mix, but apparently, they can come out of one woman’s body. When I would share this with people who are not autistic, they would respond as though it was the most ridiculous thing to be upset about, but my autistic people with Sensory Processing Disorder understand that our sensory environments can cause acute episodes of PTSD, and we don’t always recover quickly.
On a side note, our house was shown over 60 times while we were gone, and we received 10 offers.
- Finding a house that met our needs. We had to move to a city I didn’t want to move to due to one of my children’s educational needs. All of this was wrapped up in a huge long-suffering transportation issue that the school(s) and disability system could not, would not, and/or just plain did not address.
We moved because we needed transportation, a second bathroom, and more rooms. As much as I still try to think of ways for my family to be at ease in the presence of each other, we need alone time. Well, my oldest and I do. It’s like oxygen. The other two children are seekers — and that issue is a whole ‘nother article.
I am an artist and I have a very deep need to be around things I find aesthetically-pleasing. Most of the houses we saw were painfully upgraded with a dangerous amount of brand new beige everything.
Due to the amount of work we had to do on the house we were selling, buying a fixer-upper seemed like a terrible idea, but we did it anyway because it has potential. It hadn’t been updated for 40 years, at least. It was not ready for 5 humans and 3 cats to move in. The basement floor, which would room 2 children and 3 cats, had to be gutted.
- Living in clutter. One thing we all realized as our first house got cleaned out and shined up was that having less STUFF to manage made us feel better.
The little house suddenly felt spacious with ¾ of its contents stacked and smashed into the moving container. However, moving into the new house that was not upgraded or ready for us has been awfully taxing on an already spoonless mother. I do believe that I mildly-to-moderately disassociate in order to survive the level of overwhelm.
I know living out of boxes and in construction is hard for most people, but it is a sensory nightmare for me that induces wild amounts of anxiety.
Due to the amount of displaced items and the number of rooms we need for our kids, I have lost my music studio to my teenager. That is devastating– in an “I understand I’m privileged AF” sort of way.
- Life just keeps happening. There has been no break in the regular responsibilities of our complex lives. We are still autistics/adhders with scoops of SPD/OCD/Dyslexia/Dyspraxia/Anxiety/Depression sprinkled with chronic illness.
Let me mention a couple of things. We have a lot of stamina by way of grace for each other’s differences in this family. It isn’t pretty by any means, but underneath we understand that each one of us is struggling to survive this particular season.
My family understands that I am in a state of burnout and that my best is all I have. I can also say a word of gratitude for the fact that our house sold so quickly and that we have a roof over our heads.
I will mention that my husband is a regular handyman guru and he did most of the work on the old house and all of the work on this new house himself. AND, even though we will always be NDs, this house will get settled eventually.
Also, we are never staying in one room in a hotel together again — nor will we be moving anytime soon.
An autistic’s issues in the world while moving house
This is my story about being autistic and moving from a shared supported house to my own flat.
My main issues while moving were lack of spoons/energy to do everything that needed to be done, hate of telephone calls, and extreme social anxiety.
Issue 1: Decorating
I’m useless at decorating. Buying paint and supplies is tolerable on a quiet shop day with headphones on, but painting/decorating is not as easy to manage. I get distracted very easily and black walls take a lot of coats of paint.
With music on, I managed to cover the 7 worst surfaces in the flat, leaving two that I planned to be facing away from when in bed and on the sofa which I did not yet have.
Issue 2: Carpets
I hate being close to people who want to talk at me. Sales people are the worst, especially when they are high pressure sales people. I went with my support worker to two nationwide carpet supply/fitters. Both times I had to walk away. I then went with my support worker to a family run local carpet firm.
The owner realised something wasn’t right when I had to have a break and asked why. When he realised– and I had a chat with him about it on another break– he made his place autism-friendly for me. He asked me for a budget, offered me the best carpets for the price, and also offered free vinyl offcuts for three large cupboards for free.
One of his carpet fitters has ADHD, the other has an autistic relative.
I left tea and coffee and a pack of posh biscuits for them, and they sent me a text message when they were nearly finished while I went for my daily walk.
Side note: No businesses will be named in this article. If you are moving, please find similar places yourself, and if you are treated well, leave good feedback wherever you can.
Issue 3: Utilities
I couldn’t cope, it was all phone calls and waiting music. My support worker had to sort all this out for me.
We need to know our limitations and find help when we need it. We need assistance in the odd world we live in. Please find people who can help you with things you cannot manage on your own.
Issue 4: Furniture
I am on benefits, so don’t have much or any spare money. I looked for furniture, but it was very, very expensive– even secondhand stuff.
I searched for somewhere cheaper. I have a free disabled bus pass. Mainly because I hate traveling on the bus, with too many people and too many noises, but I can manage it when things are quiet though with headphones etc.
I found a place two bus rides away that recycles furniture. It is cheap and good quality, although the furniture can be a bit dated. Fashion and trendy have never been my things, though.
I went there on my own with a wish list of furniture I needed. I said I was autistic and wanted minimal contact. They took my list and gave me a break. Later, they provided me with options for the items I wanted.
I bought the large items I needed at a very reasonable price and had them delivered and placed by an autism-friendly team.
Issue 5: Packing
This again is a spoons issue. I had four weeks to pack everything up before the move. At 3.5 weeks, I had packed half of it.
My support worker had to sort out the removals as it involved lots of phone calls. The last half a week, I managed to pack the last half of my stuff. I had to or lose it.
It cost me dearly in spoons. After the move, I slept for days.
Issue 6: Miscellaneous
I love the internet. No contact is required, no going out into the odd world, and things arrive to your door a few days after ordering them. Plates, cutlery, microwave, kettle, toaster, etc. all arrived with no need to talk or go out.
Issue 7: A New Environment
Change is difficult for me, I hate not knowing where things are. For me, everything has to be in the right place. I have ways of doing things that have to be in the correct order, from knowing exactly where my keys (etc.) are to the order I do things in order to get my toast and cup of tea in the morning.
Moving house has upset this totally. I’m still having difficulty coping living here as things are not right. Things will get better, but it’s going to take time until my flat is my home.
Issue 8: Unpacking
No spoons were left. If I have enough spoons to last the rest of the day, I will attempt to unpack a box. This is difficult as well, as I need to find good places for everything.
Hopefully this article has helped you to understand what it is like for autistic people to move house, or if you are autistic, it has given you some tips to help you cope with the change and stressors of moving.