I moved to a new apartment one year ago. I still wake up at night not remembering where the kitchen is. The shower still feels wrong, there is still too much light coming from the living room window, and I still haven’t figured out how to use my gas oven. I love my new apartment, but it’s taking me a while to adjust.
Change can be difficult for autistic adults, just as it is for children on the spectrum. I think sometimes people don’t know that, or they forget. Home is the place where we find comfort. If we’re lucky enough to be able to live independently, we have a lot more control over our homes than we did as kids. We can put things where we want to keep them. If we live alone, we have a better chance of knowing where to find our stuff. One of my favorite things about being home is knowing that I feel safe, because my home is my own little world where I can be who I am and have things how I want them.
I lived in my last apartment for several years. I was used to the way the carpet felt underneath my bare feet. I was used to the electric stove. The can opener fit on the counter next to the toaster, and I still had plenty of counter space to make a sandwich. I could adjust the electric heat from room to room in the winter. I knew that the landscapers would be by to cut the grass every Wednesday morning in summer. If I needed something, I knew I could knock on the door of two of my neighbors who I had been friendly with. I was comfortable in my last apartment, until the landlord decided to make some changes.
I ended up not renewing my lease last July. The landlord had decided to do some remodeling and wanted me to relocate to an empty unit while he repainted several rooms and tore up the bathroom to put in new tile, a new shower, etc. He also rented the unit across the hall from me to a family with a toddler that screamed and cried most of the day. Since I work from home and attend college from home, I wasn’t able to concentrate. I decided that if I would have to pack up my things to move temporarily during remodeling, that I might as well look for a new apartment in a quieter area.
It only took me a week to find a new apartment. I was extremely excited. The new apartment would have an extra bedroom. I would be on the top floor, which would mean not having to listen to upstairs neighbors walking the floors all night and arguing as I had been doing for years in the old place. The new apartment was in a quieter part of town; I would no longer live near the train tracks and have a 3 a.m. freight train rattle my walls and wake me up. The new landlord was much friendlier, and the new building was much nicer. I was looking forward to moving.
I spent the next few weeks packing everything and looking online for new furniture, since I never had much in the old apartment. I ordered several pieces of no assembly required furniture like bookshelves and a coffee table to be shipped to the new place. I ordered new curtains. I threw away a bunch of old junk I had been hanging onto for years. I hired a moving company and was more than ready to go when the big day came.
It wasn’t until the first night in the new apartment that I realized how difficult it was going to be for me to adjust to the change. Moving to a new home isn’t the same as getting a new job or going to a new school. Those things have always been hard for me, but at the end of the day I could always go home. Home was where I was comfortable, where things were always the same, where I could control my own environment as much as humanly possible.
There were so many things that were different in the new place. Although I was only three miles from my old apartment, the new area I lived in seemed like a foreign country in many ways. There were different birds outside the windows. The spiders were bigger. Since there’s an old tree outside my bedroom window, the new place gets carpenter ants. I had never had ants in my old apartment. They creep me out. The new apartment has a window in the bathroom, and the old apartment didn’t. I still can’t get used to having light shining in when I’m taking a shower. Small things that other people might adjust to right away or not even notice were a big deal for me.
I don’t drive, and I can no longer easily walk to the places that used to be only a block from my home. A several mile walk to and from the grocery store is not practical for me. I used to walk to McDonalds to have coffee a few times a week, just to get out of the house. There is nowhere to walk to here without it being a long hike. Due to some medical problems, I just can’t easily do it now.
It took me several months of getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom to remember that the bathroom isn’t down the hall and to the left anymore. I get up to go to the bathroom several times each night, but it still took me more than three months to get used to where the bathroom was. I only go to the kitchen during the night once in a while, which I guess is why I still can’t get used to remembering where the kitchen is. My brain doesn’t function well when I’m half asleep. I wonder how many other autistic people have this problem.
While I love the new apartment in many ways, I still miss the familiarity of the old one. I know that a lot of autistic people have trouble with change. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized how many other autistic people have a long-term struggle to adjust after a move. Someone in one of the aspergers facebook groups I’m in brought up the topic of having trouble adjusting more than a year after after moving to a new home, and through the many comments I learned that I’m not alone. One poster’s suggestion was to make one room exactly the same as it was in the old place. She meant arranging the furniture and decorating the same, as obviously the windows etc might be in a different place. That’s a very good idea that I wish I had thought of and might have made my adjustment easier.
If you’ve ever moved, how well did you adjust? Were there any particular things you did to make the transition into the new place easier?