Thursday, December 30, 2010

Uncertainty (and reactions to learning we are moving)

When we told the children the news that we are moving, we received mix reactions. As adults, our reactions were mixed, too, so seeing the mixed reactions in our children was no surprise.

The child who displayed the most emotion is the one who has verbalized the most frustration with uncertainty, and that child has asked questions that illuminate what is going on inside the mind.

One day, he came to me holding a baseball cap from his beloved team, and announced that no matter what his dad said, he would be taking this cap with him when we move. His dad was not going to make him leave that cap, here.

Huh? It took me a long time to figure out where that came from.

My children have always lived in this house. They have never moved. Hubby and I moved four big moves in eight years, all before children. We have an experience bank and episodic memories to draw from. The children have neither.

My son's experience bank includes losing a friend to a move about a year ago. He watched his friend go through a huge move in the midst of a heartbreaking situation (that included an unpleasant divorce and one parent's job loss). He watched this family make some choices about what they would be able to take with them and what they would have to leave behind.

I explained that we would take our "stuff", including beloved baseball caps. His demeanor calmed a bit.

A couple of days later, hubby said son asked what we would take with us and what we would leave behind. They walked through the house together, and hubby showed him what is secured to the house (dishwasher, ceiling fan, kitchen cabinets, etc) that will stay here, and what is not secured that will move with us (refrigerator, furniture, clothing, etc).

When this child displays anger and frustration, I usually find that he's wondering about the move, again, worrying about something.

There are so many details to explain, so many that I didn't think that they would wonder about.

He does not want to have to live in a hotel. His friend moved away, and they had to live in a hotel, and, for some reason, that thought is not a good one for him. Me? I think living in a hotel for a little while in the middle of a move would be way cool, with me not having to cook or clean, having access to a swimming pool, etc.

I explained that yes, we may have to live in a hotel for the short term (the longest we stayed in a hotel for a move was six weeks; the shortest was about a week), and that it will be fun and part of the adventure.

His next question caught me off guard: He would need more suitcases for all of his clothing if we were going to be in a hotel; would I buy a lot more suitcases?

He has never moved before. He has no experience bank to draw from, except that of his friend, and they were completely DIY movers, where they left with all of their belongings. His reference point is different from mine. He has no idea that we will have help packing and someone will load our belongings on a truck for us and transport them separately from our drive to our new location. We all take about a week's worth of clothing for the time in the hotel, while our clothing and belongings are being moved to a new house.

He also thought that we'd just up and move one day, with no advanced notice, and was concerned about knowing at least a day before we move. Again, I realize that perception was based on his friend's move. With a DIY move, they had a lot of flexibility and weren't sure when they would leave. Our move will be scheduled. We'll have a timetable that will fall into place. In the past, we've known weeks before the move what our actual packing day and moving day are. But he doesn't know that.

His anxiety and emotion combined with his questions have surprised me. He's one of my NT kids. I forget that uncertainty affects all of us, affects them, too. He is quite the communicator; all he has to do is verbalize a concern or fear, and we can talk about it.

I am again reminded that my child with autism, whose anxiety can be show-stopping at times, is not much different from the rest of us.

And I ask myself, what about children who are NOT strong communicators, who are not able to make connections to form those questions, or who have the questions but cannot get them out?

I see in a new way why children on the autism spectrum, who are not experienced with managing even little amounts of uncertainty, are anxious and behave in certain ways sometimes.
I see more clearly why previews, visual schedules, and Social Stories(r) are so important for our children with autism. I see how uncertainty and misperceptions add to anxiety and distort our thinking and sometimes leave us frozen. And I know that all of us are going to learn a lot in the next few months, a lot about moving, a lot about ourselves.


Bekah and Corey said...

Penny, you're such a good mom! Your kids will go through the hard times, but they'll always have you to help them through them. Blessings on your move!

walking said...

What I find fascinating here is that it's NOT the autistic child who seems perturbed? Do you think she understands what it means or will freak out later when she sees her stuff being boxed up?

Pamela has a HUGE memory bank of moving but she does love our house and would probably hate having to move again!

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