Preparing for PCS Moves

You get your orders for a permanent change of station (PCS), you have a child with autism, and you don't know where to start! Use this tip sheet to help you navigate before, during, and after your move to ensure a smooth transition with your child.

  • As soon as you get your orders for a new duty station, begin a social story with your child. A social story is built around an event, places your child as the main character, and uses pictures and words that your child can understand. You can use your child's name or simply use "I", as if the child is reading the story in the first person. You can work together to create a storybook, complete with lots of pictures and maps, that can be read frequently prior to your move. This will ease some of the anxiety tied to moving: flying in an airplane, having the movers box up your child's belongings, moving into a new house, having a new room, etc. Be sure to discuss and have pictures of the new sights, sounds, people, and smells that will be associated with your move.
  • If your child thrives on a daily routine, it may help to have a picture schedule and calendar in place. Have your child cross off each day on the calendar with a big "X" at the same time each evening. This will help him or her understand the concept of days and to "see" the big moving day getting closer. Use the picture schedule to depict upcoming moving events: the day the movers will come, when you will move into temporary lodging, when you will get on an airplane or have a long car ride, etc.
  • With all of the stress of traveling during a PCS, you may also encounter some strangers who do not know what autism is. Have a few information cards on hand that explain autism just in case you find yourself in the middle of a sensory-based meltdown and are not able to explain autism to onlookers! You can view and print a sample card here.
  • In addition to the bundle of paperwork needed for a PCS, you will need to get a letter from your child's physician verifying and specifying your child's disability. You may need this for an airline, hotel, or other event that occurs during your move. Request this letter from your physician at least 3 months prior to your PCS in case it takes some time to generate. You don't want the added stress of trying to obtain this letter at the last minute before your move.
  • If your child has a preference for a certain color of cup or type of plate or eating utensil, don't forget to pack these items too. A little extra planning for these details will go a long way. Several weeks prior to your trip, make a list of items your child cannot be without on a daily basis. You will thank yourself later!
  • If your PCS involves staying in a hotel or temporary lodging facility, you may want to start by trying one night in a nearby hotel for practice. If your child is a picky eater or if the thought of eating out in a restaurant every day is daunting, you may want to request a room with a kitchenette so you can make your own meals.