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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity
Autism neurodiversity

How to Reduce Autistic Barriers to Moving

I have a lot of experience with moving. I have lived in four different states in the past four years. I have moved to a new state without visiting ahead of time. I have living in multiple homes I strongly disliked. And, I have second-guessed my decision to move somewhere for a year and then chose to leave.

Moving this many times, I have learned a lot about moving and about myself. I have also learned that there are additional barriers to moving if you are autistic.

Lesson No. 1: Always Visit

The number one thing that I have learned about moving is always visit before you decide to move anywhere significantly different than anywhere you’ve lived before.

I chose not to visit before moving somewhere once because I couldn’t afford the trip. Now, I realize how much disliking where you live damages your quality of life. If you can save money for a trip, it can save you a lot of stress in the future.

However, I understand that saving money to visit isn’t always an option; it’s hard enough saving for the security deposit and other hidden fees for the actual move. This sucks because being unable to afford to visit a new home before moving in is an instance in which being poor can be more expensive. Moving without visiting first creates a higher risk that you won’t like your home, and needing to move again is costly, financially and in terms of stress.

Trial by Error

Additionally, I’ve learned that the best way to learn what you need to be comfortable where you live is to continue putting yourself in new situations. You will learn what questions you need to ask in the future so that you get what you need.

However, no matter how many times you move, there will always be uncertainty in moving somewhere new, questions you don’t know you need to ask about where you’re going. Even if you visit the city ahead of time, it can be difficult to know if you’d enjoy living there.

Deciding if You Should Move

Deciding if you should make a long-distance move is a very stressful dilemma. There is a lot at stake! Deciding to make a major move requires thorough consideration.

Long-distance moves come with many undesirable consequences – you leave your friends, you leave the places you feel comfortable, and you must re-learn a whole new city. However, there are also benefits to moving that can make the stress worthwhile – you gain the opportunity to find a location and relationships that better suit your needs, whatever they may be.

The hardest part about the decision is that there is no guarantee that the benefits you’re hoping to gain from a move will match your expectations. It is especially hard to evaluate whether you will like the place you’re considering moving if it is significantly different from anywhere you’ve previously lived.

When Visiting Isn’t Helpful

Some people visit a new city, and they fall in love at first sight. Others do not. Gauging whether you like a place during a brief exploratory trip is challenging. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, that could be the result of many factors.

You’re not at home. You don’t know where you’re going or what to do. Navigation is hard. It’s more taxing to do anything when you’re in a foreign place, and that can easily become overwhelming.

But you aren’t certain whether you’re overwhelmed by the situation or the place, and so your exploratory trip is inconclusive.

Will I adjust?

Even if you disliked your exploratory visit, you may choose to move to that city anyway because you’re confident that you will adjust. You may not adjust, but that’s a gamble people are often willing to take for the prospect of new opportunities.

When is it reasonable to assume you will adjust to something and when should you trust your initial reaction?

This is an especially relevant question to ask if you’re autistic. Your sensory needs are not like most people’s, and so you may not trust that you will adjust to what most people adjust to. Autistic people have more potential stress triggers in a new city and yet fewer reliable people to consult about their local quality of life.

Additionally, autistic people may doubt their feelings about their initial exploratory experience because they expect to be “bad with change.” This is incredibly problematic because the uniqueness of an autistic person’s sensory profile requires them to evaluate for themselves which environment they find comfortable. Trusting your experience is more important for autistics than neurotypicals because autistics cannot rely on the reputation of what most people find comfortable.

Trusting yourself and what you feel about a new place is important. But, this does not eliminate the uncertainty of completing an exploratory trip to a new city and leaving feeling overwhelmed and uncertain whether you even liked it.

When faced with uncertainty or dislike of a place, is it worth trying to adjust?

Autistic people often find themselves in situations where they have to adjust to uncomfortable things in the world. Being in the minority of finding everyday places uncomfortable, you become accustomed to needing to adjust, possibly without even thinking about it.

You’re adaptable and resilient! But should you always put the responsibility on yourself to adjust to uncomfortable situations? When the opportunity presents itself, can you not prioritize finding a place that you don’t have to adapt to?

Moving is hard regardless of whether you like the city or not. Why put that added stress on yourself of having to adapt to a location you dislike? It’s okay to prioritize your own comfort every once and a while.  

Moving Despite Uncertainty

Sometimes it is worth adjusting to a new place that you don’t immediately love or that you are uncertain if you will like.

After making a move you were uncertain about, you will likely find yourself evaluating whether you made a good decision. Affirming that you are confident in your decision is challenging at first. Unfortunately, regret and second-guessing your decision can make it even harder to adjust to a new place.

Relocation Depression

Many (possibly most) people feel depressed immediately after relocating to a new home, a period known as “relocation depression.” For some, relocation depression is as brief as one month while, for others, it can last more than a year.

If you are unhappy after a move, relocation depression can further complicate your ability to isolate why you’re unhappy. You may assume you just need time to adjust, but you cannot be certain.

Make Yourself Comfortable

There are so many changes that accompany a major move, it can be hard to be self-aware about how specific things are impacting you. My best advice to combat this challenge is to do as much as you can to make yourself comfortable in your new home.

Where you live matters. Your home has a significant impact on your quality of life.

Autistic Barriers to Moving

Finding a home that you will be happy with when you aren’t familiar with the area can be difficult. It can be especially difficult if you’re autistic.

For example, perhaps you’re especially noise sensitive like me. You’re searching for a house, so you schedule a viewing. Someone is talking to you the whole time you’re being shown the house. Your attention is on the conversation, and you’re simultaneously trying to observe the house.

Can I hear the traffic? Is the fridge loud? Where would the pipes run and make the most noise? Is the electricity audible? Would I feel like I have enough space when the room is filled with furniture?

But you can’t pay attention well while conversing, and you keep getting ushered into new rooms before you’re done analyzing the last one. Then, when reflecting on the viewing afterwards, you’re trying to reconstruct the house in your mind but you’re not certain you remember it right.

You are then forced to make a decision without feeling like you have enough information and must hope for the best. If you choose a home that proves not to be right for you, you may be stuck there for the duration of your lease – although it may be possible to negotiate out of a lease early.

Ending up in a place that is not a good fit for you doesn’t mean you’re “bad with change.” Rather, it means it’s hard to find what you need to be comfortable.

You Can Change Your Mind

If you’ve moved to a new place, you’ve done your best to make yourself comfortable, and you’re still not happy in the place you’ve moved after a while, there is no shame in acknowledging that this new place may not be a good fit for you and leaving.

Leaving may feel like a failure. But becoming more self-aware about what you need to be happy is not a failure; it is a revelation in self-awareness. Trust yourself!

My Story

I recently made a gamble, moving to Berkeley after an overwhelming visit left me uncertain if I liked it there. For a year, I constantly doubted my decision before I finally chose to leave.

I worried that, if I left, it would look bad on my resume that I only kept a position for one year and that would make me look flakey and unreliable.

I worried that maybe I would hate anywhere I moved for the first couple years I lived there because that had happened to me before, and maybe that was normal. I may just be “bad with change.”

When I left and moved somewhere less urban and densely-populated, I was immediately relieved, and I did not need a year to adjust. 

Anticipating the stress of moving and bracing for it can help or hurt you.

Knowing that a move is going to be stressful can better prepare you to mitigate that stress. However, be aware that constantly bracing for stress can make you more stressed and even fearful.

When moving, people often experience stress and an adjustment period, but this doesn’t mean you should expect to be constantly stressed. And, if you are constantly stressed when you move, it’s unlikely all your stress is the result of the adjustment period. Even if you’re experiencing relocation depression, that doesn’t invalidate your capacity to recognize why you’re unhappy.

If you expect you may dislike where you live, moving might not be an immediate option, but you have control over your space and how you spend your time in it. Do your best to make yourself comfortable, but you don’t have to permanently get used to things you dislike.

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2 Responses

  1. Andi,

    I kept reading the word “city” over and over again through your personal story. Then I came across this statement of yours –– “When I left and moved somewhere less urban and densely-populated, I was immediately relieved, and I did not need a year to adjust.”

    Bingo! Living in an urban area is the absolute pits according to me. I’ve never ever been comfortable around crowds or living in urban city dense situations. Almost fifty years ago I hated the big city of Denver (really a cakewalk of a metro area in comparison to larger, faster, less-friendly eastern big cities) when I was in college, aged 22. I took a year off of school, worked full time driving big diesels for $3.60 per hour (1973) and in a year’s time, my wife and I saved about $3k to finally pay for a move to a mountain college town of 15,000 residents including 3,000 college students.

    Yet all my young bride and I could find in this overcrowded campus town was a crowded, tight apartment in the “married student housing” section of Campus. Still I kept pursing and seven months later got lucky.

    I became the only College Student living and working at the site of the original College, now a 3,000 acre State-owned Cattle Ranch and Experimental Station located 18 miles away from campus. So I went from being able to spring out of bed, slip into summer clothes and race to class, all in five minutes –– to having to drive 18 miles one way during heavy winter snow storms. But the privacy and isolation was worth it. I was studying Veterinary Medicine and this new “ranch” gave me employment and hands-on experience with large animals.

    The 3,000 acre ranch (3 miles square) in the mountains included a trout stream river, a pine forest and 750 head of cattle in fenced pastures. It was just right for a private picnic, a place to raise a big dog, a place where my next door neighbor wasn’t running a lawn mower at 7AM on Sunday morning. The closest neighbor was a couple of city blocks distant. Takes a while, but just listening to the breeze and birds chirping is enough to fix an injured soul and progress wildly in a new direction…!

    That ranch life cemented something in me. I knew it was from a past life where I developed an aversion to crowds. Don’t get me wrong. I can still drive in the fast lane on the freeway. I simply choose NOT be there. I also choose not to attend sporting or music events drawing thousands of people together.

    The type of work you do to survive might prohibit you from living somewhere in the country. But maybe not. Once focused on the great open outdoors vs: dense city living a few feet away from neighbors and crowds, perhaps something new and unique would sprout for you? When I made the break, it was 30 years before internet communication arrived.

    Finding the best of quiet, outdoors places to live isn’t easy. Advertise yourself. “Professional Woman seeking x, y & z. References provided, etc.” Good luck.

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