If my posts have been a little sporadic of late, it's because I'm in the midst of moving house. We've just done a knockdown and rebuild. A project which has taken almost two years from concept to completion. Well, partial completion at least, there's still the gardens, blinds, driveway, pool etc to do yet.
During that time, I've learned a lot about myself and my reactions to stress and change as well as lots about how my kids handle change.
Non-Verbal Resistance to Change
When we first started the project, my youngest was three. He was quite a late talker and not particularly verbal at the time. We tried as best we could to explain the situation to him and he'd talked about it back to us, so we figured that he'd gotten the message. As the moving out date approached however his behavior became more and more destructive.
When you're a busy parent, you're often too overwhelmed by the current day-to-day situations to pull back and look at the big picture. My wife and I would simply talk about what the little so-and-so had destroyed today. We tried positive reinforcement but it got us nowhere. We tried negative, and that only made us feel sore, guilty and ashamed. Worse still, the preschool hadn't reported any of our son's behaviors and apart from separation anxiety every morning, he seemed quite calm and settled there.
It was only when I posted a bit of a whinge about his behaviors on a forum and got a question in response that I started to think about things. The response simply told me to stop looking at what he'd destroyed recently and try to imagine his world. Had anything changed from his point of view?
Thinking about it I realized that while I'd been thinking that his behaviour had worsened with age, it really hadn't come to a head until recently. Until we started reacting to the knockdown/rebuild. I'd been so concerned about making sure that he understood what was going on that I'd forgotten the most important thing to consider - how did he feel about it?
Looking through the eyes of a child...
Let's just pretend to be three years old and mostly non-verbal. We can't read anything and we can only interpret a fragment of speech. We can't make any judgements based on past experience - because we've had none. Moving house could mean anything from putting wheels on the house to getting out and pushing it down the street ourselves.
So what can we detect in our world? Our parents have told us that the house will smashed down by trucks. What if I'm in it? Will I be alright? Where will I go to sleep? I've been shown the new house but how will I know how to get there or when to go?
Then of course there's the immediately observable things. My world is being dismantled piece-by-piece. My toys are being put into boxes and are being taken from my room. This is also happening to my stuffed animals. All I see are people grabbing my possessions and taking them away from me.
Finally, there's the change in focus on the parent's part. A toddler won't understand time restrictions and obligations; My parents aren't spending time with me. They're leaving me alone - without toys. They don't understand my talking and if anything they react angrily when I ask the same questions repeatedly. There must be some other way to be noticed. Perhaps if I'm naughty?
A situation like this is almost impossible for a neurotypical toddler so you can imagine that an aspie toddler who has late language skills and almost no ability to pick up on non-verbal cues, such as tone and expression, is likely to be completely lost.
In my younger son's case, his behavior didn't really come right again until we'd been in our new temporary accommodation for a little while. Before that, he did quite a bit of damage there too.
The recent move back was much better because we changed a few things. We actively involved him in visiting the new place as it was being built. He knew which was his room even when the house was only frames. We talked about how things would be, how we'd unpack all those toys in boxes that he'd not seen for a year. We didn't use pictures, but the way they were repeated made them into social stories. We let him carry his favorite toys from the temporary house to the new one himself - not in boxes.
Of course, the fact that it was like Christmas with all those old toys returning coupled with the fact that he was older and considerably more verbal made a lot of difference too. Then there's the benefit of hindsight - he's done a move before, so now he knows what to expect. Nevertheless, we've been watching carefully for signs of anxiety.
Last week at school, he apparently tried to bite someone. This time, we're not going to be so quick to put the bad behavior down to "naughtyness". We're considering his anxiety levels too.
Adult Non-Verbal Stress
Moving stress isn't just limited to kids, I know mostly what's going on but I've still been pretty tough to live with these last few weeks. It took almost a meltdown to realize what one of the big problems was. I'd taken one and a half weeks off to sort out the move and almost every waking hour had been spent engaged in moving activities. All of my "free time" was spent talking with my wife. At work, I've got my own office where I can retreat when I feel a bit overwhelmed. At lunchtimes, I go for a walk outside on my own. This I find soothing. The whole moving experience had made me feel "crowded" and I really needed to balance it out with some space. The fact that I had my parents staying (and helping enormously) was great but it also meant that alone-time was even more difficult to find.
The other thing about work versus home is that most people at work ask me for help or do as they're requested. There is usually a firm plan for me to read and although I often find myself fixing other people's mistakes, nothing is quite as unstructured as getting hen-pecked about furniture locations while doing things that your body isn't that well-adjusted to doing. I'm cerebral, most muscular.
Then there's the stress of the unstructured, the unexpected. I'm used to having everything organized exactly where I want it. Even the fact that the bookshelves were new (and of a less book-friendly design) was stressing me out. A well-adjusted (older) aspie's world is often about structure and order but moving has none of that.
Funnily enough, as I started putting my books on the shelves, I started to feel calmer. I think it was the fact that I was "rebuilding a familiar landscape". This is akin to lining the walls of a new accommodation with pictures that remind you of home.
I've always been quite good with change - in particular, rushing out to use newer computing systems or different brands without too many problems but moving is a completely different type of change. Even when the target house is so much more attractive than the source, moving is a change I find myself resisting.