Grandparenting a Child with Autism

Ten years ago, grandparents Bob and Suzanne Wright founded Autism Speaks, an organization that conducts awareness and outreach activities aimed at families, governments, and the public. Autism Speaks’ goal is to change the future for all who struggle with an autism spectrum disorder. They have been an inspiration to grandparents everywhere.

While a diagnosis of autism does not lessen or dilute the infinite love we feel for our children’s children, it could be a shock into a world that we may not be familiar with. What is worse, we see our own children struggle with the adjustments. The impairments in language, communication, behavior, and social relationships are often difficult to understand and accept. Usually first diagnosed in early childhood, these symptoms can range from the most severe form, called autistic disorder, to a much milder condition, Asperger’s syndrome.

What role do grandparents play? According to a 2010 study by the Interactive Autism Network, grandparents are often the first to suspect a child may have autism and play a major role for children once diagnosed. Many make major adjustments in their lifestyle and finances to become proactive in their grandchildren’s lives.

The following are tips from parents, grandparents, and caregivers for those living with children on the spectrum.

• Expected the unexpected—be prepared. With a child with autism, you never know when something will throw them into a major meltdown. So try to roll with the punches as best as possible. Use the words or actions that you know work the best in the situation and bring the child back. Try making it a game or injecting humor even when you feel like crying.

• Let it go. As with dealing with all grandchildren, it is not up to us to decide bedtime, rules, eating habits, what is good or not so good for them. If you want a good relationship with the children, respect their choices. If you must, gently offer an opinion but remember, you want to help not cause more stress. Respect boundaries as a grandparent and remember that you are not the child’s primary caregiver. Raising a child with special needs often demands strict adherence to structure and routines. Children with disabilities may have trouble coping with changes.

• Support your children in their efforts to come to terms with and negotiate this challenging path. Listen, affirm, and avoid offering quick judgments and/or solutions. What parents need most is to be supported and to feel affirmed that they are good parents and they will be able to cope.

• Cherish the cuddly moments; they may not come often but they will in their own way. Make new memories, even a simple walk around the neighborhood will be cherished. Don’t play therapist. Chances are that your grandchild already has a variety of therapists committed to addressing his various needs. Your grandchild should look forward to time spent with you. Provide your children with respite opportunities. Offer to watch your exceptional grandchild for a few hours in order to afford your children a chance to unwind and reconnect with each other and/or their other “typical” children. Parents often forfeit their own relationships in order to respond to the full-time demands of raising a child with special needs.

• Learn to love the quirks. Work with them and use them. Remember to view the disability in perspective. Your grandchild’s diagnosis is only one facet– it does not define the whole child. Your grandchild has a unique personality and capabilities, gifts and weaknesses that are hers alone. Your ability to embrace and accept your grandchild will also do wonders for her self-esteem.

• Be reliable and available when possible; however, you do not have to be available 24/7. It is okay to have boundaries. Grandparents should have their own interests and life; it makes for happier and healthier seniors.

• Spending time with the rest of the grandchildren is equally important. So often, home life is so centered on the special needs child that siblings get lost in the shuffle.

• If it is all new to you, educate yourself. There are lectures and family groups that deal with autism. (Check Learn the lingo and follow the lead of the parents.

• Once a child is diagnosed, move forward. If the parents accept the diagnosis, questioning or doubting might be very stressful for them. Be supportive.

• Be careful about relaying information you have read on the Internet or have seen on television shows. A lot of information is controversial or unsound. Stick with respected websites for information.

• Never, say anything that could be construed as placing blame or responsibility on the parents.

• Don’t make rash promises about babysitting or financial support, if you are not in a good physical or financial state. Be accessible, be loving, and be realistic.

By Staten Islander Marianna Randazzo, author, educator, and a newly minted grandmother.

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  1. Easter Egg Hunt @ the Port Richmond Library

    March 23 @ 12:00 pm - 4:15 pm
    March 23, 2018  |  12:00 pm - 4:15 pm
    Port Richmond Library
    0 to 4 years @ 12 PM to 12:30 PM 5 years to 9 years @ 3:30 PM to 3:45 PM 10 years to 15 years @ 4 PM to 4:15 PM One winner from each age group will win
  2. Kidz Cook

    March 23 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
    March 23, 2018  |  3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
    SI Children's Museum
    Learn how the whipping technique adds volume to foods such as creams, eggs and cheeses.
  3. Wii Love Gaming

    March 23 @ 3:30 pm
    March 23, 2018  |  3:30 pm - 3:30 pm
    Stapleton Library
    Challenge your friends and other kids as you play cool Wii games!
  4. Game On!

    March 23 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
    March 23, 2018  |  3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
    St. George Library
    Get ready to play some of your favorite board & Wii games.
  5. Happy Pig Day! An Elephant and Piggie Party

    March 23 @ 3:30 pm
    March 23, 2018  |  3:30 pm - 3:30 pm
    Great Kills Library
    For ages 4 and up. Pre-registration is recommended.
  6. St. Peters High School Heart Health for Athletes

    March 23 @ 6:00 pm
    March 23, 2018  |  6:00 pm - 6:00 pm
    St. Peter's High School
    Free BMI, EKG and Echo screenings for athletes  
  7. Political Issues Affecting our Youth Today

    March 24 @ 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
    March 24, 2018  |  9:00 am - 12:00 pm
    Zimmer Club
    Please join us on Saturdays from January 20th to April 21st (except March 31st) at 9:00AM for the 2018 Zimmer Youth Conservation Classes. The classes are from 9AM – 12 Noon for approximately 13 weeks.  Each week we teach about
  8. Saint George Greenmarket

    March 24 @ 9:00 am - 1:00 pm
    March 24, 2018  |  9:00 am - 1:00 pm
    St. Mark's Place and Hyatt St
    Set on a hill overlooking New York Harbor and the downtown Manhattan skyline, this market draws a dedicated following of neighborhood shoppers who line up each Saturday to get first dibs on the freshest seasonal fruit, produce, cheese, meat, seafood
  9. Eggstravagant Feast with the Bunny

    March 24 @ 9:30 am - 2:00 pm
    March 24, 2018  |  9:30 am - 2:00 pm
    Staten Island Zoo
    Join us for a special visit with breakfast AND lunch: hot buffet, Easter egg hunt, intimate animal encounters, ride our carousel with Chuck the Groundhog, take your own pictures with our Bunny (please bring your own camera), our cotton-tailed friend
  10. Sensory Storytime

    March 24 @ 10:30 am
    March 24, 2018  |  10:30 am - 10:30 am
    Tottenville Library
    An inclusive, 4-session program that combines the best practices from special education and traditional storytime to create an interactive, engaging program for children of all abilities! Limited to 12 children, best for ages 2 and older. Pre-registration begins one week