I moved to North Carolina from Puerto Rico, and people often ask me how I ended up moving here. Falling in love got me here. I met my son’s father in Puerto Rico and it was love at first sight. We dated long distance and then we decided for me to “jump” and move to the states. Our son, Trey, was born here. There were no complications at the time of the delivery, and he was developing normally until about 18 months. We started noticing changes in his behaviors, he stopped talking, he started to experience frequent ear infections, he often avoided eye contact, and he started obsessing with lining up all his toys. Those changes had us suspecting that it was something wrong with our son, but we never suspected autism as there are no cases in our families prior to our son’s diagnosis.
When people find out I moved to NC from Puerto Rico and that my son has been diagnosed with autism, I’m often asked about what things I suggest and recommend to other Spanish-speaking parents looking to move to a new state. Here are some recommendations I offer when people ask me about what steps to take when moving to the United States with a child with special needs.
In my case, as a non-English speaker, it was extremely important to me to learn the language. I was able to enroll at Forsyth Tech and took English as a second language classes. The classes were free of cost. There are many community colleges and churches that provide these classes. Also, the use of language apps is useful to test and improve knowledge and it can be useful especially if there are issues with transportation. I strongly encourage my Spanish-speaking families to find ways to learn English, as I see the language barrier as one of the main issues our Hispanic families experience when moving to the states.
It is important to also take into consideration the fact that we have families moving to the United States where they and their children do not have U.S. citizenship. It is important to let these families know that they will not be able to apply for Medicaid and other state-funded programs. These Spanish-speaking families will need help connecting to local churches, community clinics, and agencies that help Latino and Hispanic families.
Please keep in mind that each U.S. state has its own requirements, but usually you will need to have your passport, green card or valid ID, and birth certificate, as well as copies of important documents, such as medical records.
Research the doctors, therapists, and other service providers available in the new location and reach out to local advocacy organizations for referrals. If you have a newborn or toddler, contact early intervention providers like the Children’s Developmental Services Agency (CDSA) and become familiar with the services available in your new location. Parents will need to obtain and transfer medical files so that the new physician can be brought up to speed quickly. Parents should also obtain insurance pre-authorization for important prescriptions. Have at least a 30-day supply of your prescriptions on hand before moving. For school-aged children, learn about vaccination requirements in the new district and update vaccinations before leaving. If you wish to avoid certain vaccinations, investigate the new school’s vaccination waiver process and begin to assemble the required documentation so that you can begin the process and avoid a delay in your child starting classes at the new school.
Your child’s right to a free and appropriate education, wherever you may move, is protected by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and other civil rights legislation. But relocation will involve negotiating a new Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and/or 504 plan (which provides accommodations and services but not specialized education).
If your child’s IEP is due to be updated by your current school district, conduct those discussions before the move. You should bring the new assessment of needed services, as well as supporting documentation, to the new school. If moving in the summer, be sure to get copies of all records before the end of the school year, since that becomes increasingly difficult when classes aren’t in session.
I strongly suggest parents do advance research on social service agencies to identify local providers of day care, in-home services, social programs, career assistance and other supports for Spanish-speaking families.
The Autism Society of North Carolina has many great resources available for people moving into the states. Here are a few I recommend:
- Toolkit: Moving to North Carolina
- Toolkit: Accessing Services
- Webinar: Navigating Services: Where and How to Get Help
- Webinar: Advocating for School Services – Understanding the IEP Process
For Spanish-speaking families, we have a resources page:
Our website can also be viewed in more than 100 languages by clicking on the globe icon in the upper righthand corner and selecting a language from the Google Translate menu.
Vanessa Vazquez Catala is an Autism Resource Specialist in the Triad region. Autism Resource Specialists are available to help individuals and families in every county of North Carolina. To be connected to the Autism Resource Specialist near you, please fill out this form.