Easing the Move to a New Home with Visual Supports & Choice Making

  • Situation

    My son has autism and recently has be removed from his father’s house to go live with his grandmother. He may experience another change soon as I am hoping to get full custody of him.   In this case, he will move in with me. I realize this amount of change is difficult, and I would like some ideas to make his next move (hopefully with me) less stressful.   In addition, the move in with me would require a trip in a plane. How can I best prepare him for upcoming changes?

  • Summary

    Moving to a new home or a new city can be stressful for anyone. For children with autism, change can be particularly anxiety-provoking.  However, preparing them ahead of time and involving them in small decisions can make the process a bit easier. One way of doing this is through the use of visual supports (e.g. Behavior Stories, countdown on calendar) and choice making, along with the supportive care from adults and extra time to adjust.

  • Definition

    A behavior story is a simple description of an everyday social situation, written from a child’s perspective. The situation is described in detail and focuses on the important social cues, events, expectations and ways for the child to react in the situation. Behavior stories are intended to be used with a child prior to an event. It is rehearsed with an adult so that when the event actually occurs, the child can use the story as a guide for behavior.  Visual supports are tools that support a child’s understanding of events throughout their day and to assist in decreasing anxiety. Visual supports may  include pictures, words, objects, arrangement of the environment, visual cues within the environment, schedules, maps, timelines, and scripts. In this case, use of a calendar may  also include words, ‘count-down visuals, and pictures located on the calendar.


    A structured choice option is an intervention that gives a child a sense of control over a situation by providing choices. Structured choice interventions are used to prevent or de-escalate interfering behaviors and to increase appropriate behaviors.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13, 14-17
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Ability to attend to pictures/written stimuli.


    Ability to understand basic language.




  • Process

    1.  If your child has basic calendar skills, you or another adult can use a calendar to help him or her clearly see what is happening and when it will happen. Highlight the “moving date” in some fashion (e.g. highlighter, picture of new house, plane) and as each day passes, an adult can “check off” or highlight each day closer to the actual moving day.

    2. Write or edit the attached Behavior Story and have someone read this often with your child before the move. (Please see the resource section for additional information on the use of Carol Gray’s Social Story strategy.) These are short stories, often with pictures and text describing different situations and activities that will help children with ASD have positive outcomes through gaining a better understanding of what to expect and how to respond in given situations.

    3. If your child must board a plane for the move and this is a new situation, use visual supports and “priming” to ease his or her  anxiety about planes.  Again, a social or behavior story would be useful. Add an icon or draw a picture of a plane on the moving date on the calendar. Simple children’s books about air travel and moving may be helpful if your child has an interest in books or will attend to pictures in books.

    4. Include coping strategies your child may already know or explicitly teach new techniques within the behavior story itself. This could be something your child’s counselor or therapist could assist with as well.

    5. Also, it would be beneficial to include some special interest toys or comfort objects in a small carry-on bag to provide something for him or her  to play with during the plane ride.

    6. When on the plane trip, show the passage of time to help your child  understand how long the trip will last  (e.g. visual time, countdown cards) and what events will occur when the plane arrives at the destination. See the attachment and resource section for more visual support ideas.

    7. Create choices throughout the planning and the move that will include your child. This final strategy will give your  child ‘control’ over the unknown situation and experience.

    8. Note:  Many examples of ‘airplane social/behavior stories’ have been developed and can be located with a ‘search’ on the internet. Explore these options to see if any suit your needs.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    Ability Path (airplane social story)


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.