Grandparents are an integral part of family dynamics. Children with autism need to realize the importance grandparents play in their lives. They need to see them as a resource for assistance and advice.
Sense of family and belonging
The presence of grandparents provides a child with autism a special sense of family and belonging in this world. Grandparents can also provide a sense of unconditional love in the life of a child with autism.
Generalizing their skills
Children with autism often struggle with generalizing the skills they learn at school into their homes. Once they have mastered those skills at home, they can again struggle with generalizing those skills into the community or to family members who do not reside in their own home.
Grandparents provide an excellent opportunity for your child with autism to practice his/her new skills with. Grandparents can present as a “safe” option for your child with autism. Grandparents can also provide a vast array of new social opportunities for your child with autism to practice his/her social or communication skills.
Adopt a grandparent
Your family may be in a situation where grandparents on both sides of the family are deceased. If this is your current situation, you should consider “Adopting A Grandparent.” There are many ways to go about this. It could be a trusted and elderly member of your neighborhood.
There are also elderly members of your church who might be interested in becoming an adoptive grandparent for your child. A simple phone call to a local nursing home may also assist your family with being able to obtain an adoptive grandparent for your child with autism.
Respite care for parents
Home life for most families nowadays is extremely busy. It is not uncommon to have both parents employed. Then when they arrive home there are a million things to be done.
There are meals to cook, laundry to clean, homework to help children with, and of course, the involvement in after school activities such as music lessons, gymnastics, basketball, etc. Add to this hectic schedule the responsibility of also meeting the needs of an autistic child.
It is easy for parents to focus all of their energy on the needs of their children as well as the child with autism. Parents are often so busy with taking care of everyone in the home they often neglect to take care of themselves. Grandparents are an excellent resource for respite care for your family.
They know your child with autism and can care for him/her for an evening or weekend in your own home or theirs. This may assist you as parents with the necessary break needed to recharge and begin tackling the needs of your family again once refreshed.
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Grandparents as advocates
Actively involved grandparents will have a new appreciation for what autism is all about. Many grandparents were raised during a time when a diagnosis of autism was considered to be extremely negative for the families.
Myths were often considered truths, such as that your child will never want to be touched or hugged or that all he/she will be able to do is sit on the floor and spin plates.
Grandparents who become involved with their autistic grandchildren will be able to gain a new understanding. Gaining such new information and perspective will assist these grandparents with becoming positive advocates.
Connections with other students
Many students at school will often center their conversations around their grandparents. They may discuss their grandparents coming to their birthday party.
Discussions could revolve around a gift they received from their grandparents at Christmas time, or what they did at their grandparents’ during summer vacation. Children at school may mention a sick or dying grandparent too. Children with autism are more likely to involve themselves in such conversation when they have a reference point to begin the conversation with.
Such a reference point would be their own involvement with a grandparent. The more social conversations they can have with their peers, the more likely they are to continue to have such conversations in a natural fashion.
Grandparents Day at school
Many schools will celebrate grandparents. They often have a special day where grandparents can come to the school, interact with their grandchildren, and be recognized. Children with autism will enjoy having their own grandparents also come to school with them for such celebrations.
This will demonstrate to their peers that children with autism have family members just like they do. There is also a sense of “pride” with being able to get lunch with your grandparents at school, have them attend your school concert, see your artwork displayed in the hallway at school, or be able to show them which seat in the classroom is yours.
Children with autism can also practice their communication and social skills by introducing their grandparents to their teacher and friends at school.
Grandparents as valuable insight
There are no secret approaches to raising successful children. Many parents are often told how “lucky” they are to have raised such successful children. In reality, “luck” has nothing to do with it. Raising children into successful young adults is just plain and simple “hard work.”
Grandparents have already gone through the stress and hard work related to raising children. They can be an excellent source of information for you as a parent of a child with autism to go to for support.
They can go to doctor’s visits with you and your child, help you monitor his/her medication if he/she is taking any, be an objective “extra set of eyes” when a meltdown is occurring, be someone to vent to when you are frustrated, or take your child to an ABA therapy appointment while you get the family meal prepared for the evening.
Holidays are a special time of the year. Having a grandparent actively involved at holiday time can be very exciting and pleasant for an autistic child and make him/her feel fully included.
There is nothing better than your child with autism hanging out with his/her grandparents and baking sugar cookies at Christmas time, going shopping for a Halloween costume, or dyeing eggs at Easter.
All of these events are excellent ways for your child to practice his/her social skills in a natural environment without them feeling therapeutic.
Many autistic children can struggle with developing empathy skills related to the needs of others. Grandparents can assist in developing this sense of empathy. Elderly grandparents can present many needs your child with autism can learn to deal with.
Empathy with grandparents can be developed by shoveling their doorstep during winter, drawing them a picture, helping them wash their dishes, or raking their yard.
All these errands will help your child with develop a sense of the needs of “others” instead of focusing solely on his/her own needs.
This article was featured in Issue 107 – Caring for Your Autism Family