Special Needs: Grandparents Can Be in Your Corner
There is a well-known parable floating around the special needs community which describes how it feels when you are first told you are to be the parent of a child with special needs.
The story describes how a family is preparing to go to Italy. They have researched all the best activities and adventures to experience. They have identified the best places to stay and the ways to get around each city. They have researched the weather and packed accordingly.
The family boards the plane with excitement and settle in for the journey. The plane lands, and the pilot announces, “Welcome to Holland; we wish you an amazing stay.” The family looks at each other. They are shocked. They had no plan to visit Holland. They do not know where to stay. They have no idea what activities or experiences to access. They are not even dressed appropriately for Holland.
Grandparents of children with autism are also shocked when they hear the news. They already experienced parenthood and hoped they could be a support to their children. They imagined all the special events and activities they could enjoy with their new grandchild. They were excited to attend birthday parties, graduation celebrations, music or sports activities, and cheer for their grandson or daughter. Then they hear, their grandchild has autism.
Grandparents may be confused; they may wonder what autism is. They may wonder how autism will affect their grandchild? Will they be able to play with their grandchild? Will they be able to communicate with their grandchild? How will they be able to help their son or daughter through this new journey?
The Grandparents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Survey reported (IAN Research 2010 www.ianproject.org)
- Grandparents felt at a lost and inadequate
- Their dreams for their grandchild changed
- They felt guilty being at a distance
- They were saddened by the news
The Autism Speaks www.autismspeaks.org survey reported:
- Grandparents go through a period of mourning, similar to parents, and feel:
- Anger (This comes from the other’s genetics)
- Confusion (Too much information)
- Denial (This is not happening to us)
- Disappointment (Will I have a relationship with my grandchild?)
- Fear: (What if I cannot help?)
- Guilt: (Did I do something to cause this?)
- Powerlessness: (I wish I could make it go away)
So, what can grandparents do?
They can be in their son, daughter’s and grandchild’s corner.
- Reach acceptance, develop confidence and have realistic expectations
- Connect with experts and learn about autism
- Accept their grandchild for who he/she is and dream new dreams
- Help raise this child; they have raised their children. They know about life, they lived it longer
- Spend time with their grandchild
- Do not blame their children
- Do not criticize for failure to discipline
- Do not take things personally as it may be harder to form relationships, so do not give up
- Find out if financial help is needed
- Offer to babysit or support child care
- Offer to housekeep or find a housekeeper
- Listen to their children, to their fears and grief
- Affirm you will be there for them
- Ask if they need something
- Affirm that they are doing a good job
- Remember that the disability is only one part of their grandchild
- Know that their grandchild will have strengths and talents
Here are some activities grandparents could do with their grandchild:
- Read to their grandchild
- Play with their grandchild
- Help teach them (dressing, setting table, cleaning up, brushing teeth, bathing)
- Sing with and to them, dance with them, teach them sports
When engaging is challenging, try:
- Identifying some rewards for doing the activity ( try a special treat or special activity)
- Do the activity for shorter times at first
- Use your own interests such as gardening, cooking, or repair work to connect
- Give them choices
- Prepare activities ahead
- Find something fun, motivating, and interest-based
A final note to grandparents might be to follow Emily Perl Kinsley’s advice, “If you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.”— Emily Perl Kingsley
Enjoy your grandchild and support your children. Be in their corner!
Empowering Grandparents Raising Grandchildren by Carole B Cox PHD, 2000
The Sacred work of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren by Elaine Williams
The Granny Nanny by Lee Edwards
Grandparents Guide to Autism: making the most of the time at Nana’s House by Nancy Mucklow, 2012
Grand parenting A Child with Special Needs by Charlotte E Thompson 2009
Grandparents as Careers of Children with Disabilities Facing Challenges by Phillip McCallion & Mathew Janicki 2000
The Grandparent Guide by Dr. Kornhaber
Your Special Grandchild by Josie Santomauro
A Book for Grandparents of Child Diagnosed with Asperger 2009
Inside Kinship Care by David Pitcher 2013
This article was featured in Issue 92 – Developing Social Skills for Life