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Grandparents and special needs grandchildren

Having grandparents close by can be a godsend. The relationships they’re able to develop with your children, the help and support they’re able to give you are invaluable, not to mention the $$ you can save on babysitting!

When parenting a child with special needs, whether they have developmental delays or a behavioral diagnosis, having grandparents close by can be both a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, that extra set of hands is so helpful when it comes to the extra doctor and therapy appointments. On the other hand, our parents grew up in a different time when people just weren’t as aware of developmental delays and behavioral diagnoses. This lack of knowledge can lead to frustration and sometimes even anger on both sides.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. With some adjustments in the way both of you think and approach your relationship, having your parents by your side can be a huge asset for both you and your children.

What you can do:

  • Allow them to grieve. Just as you likely grieve (or grieved) when you received your child’s diagnosis and for their lack of a “normal” childhood, allow your parents to grieve as well. Just as you didn’t expect to be a special needs parent, they likely didn’t expect to be a special needs grandparent. As you’ve likely learned, parenting a child with special needs can bring so much joy to your life but it takes time to shift that perspective.

  • Be patient. They are being introduced to a whole new world that they are likely not familiar with. They don’t understand. The language and terms you use may be completely foreign and unless they’ve walked through this process the way we have, they will not understand it.

  • Educate them. As the old saying goes, “knowledge is power.” Send them articles to read and allow them to take your child to their therapy appointments so they can get to know the therapists as well. Keep them informed as to new developments with your child and exciting milestones that your child may be hitting.

  • Set expectations. This is a tough one when it comes to grandparents. For neurotypical children, grandparents often receive a special pass when your children are in their care. Schedules may be completely ignored, they may eat candy for dinner and stay up way past their bedtime. But, your child may have very specific daily needs that can’t be altered. Whether they have autism and must stick to a rigorous schedule or have behavioral challenges that must be addressed daily, it’s important to set those expectations up front if grandparents are going to be involved in the daily care of your child.

On the flip side, remember that similar to the way you long for the days of “just being a parent,” they likely long for the days of “just being a grandparent.” For that reason, it is important to keep your expectations in check.

What they can do: (PSST - we recommend sharing this article with them)

  • Listen. When we call and want to tell you about something new going on with our child, LISTEN. Don’t offer suggestions, we just want a safe space to be heard and not judged.

  • Respect our parenting choices. You may have a different opinion on how we’re approaching our child’s diagnosis or the therapies we’re pursuing but please, support and respect our decisions.

  • Remember that you’re still MY mom or dad. Yes, the focus is on the children 99% of the time but no matter how old we are, we’re still YOUR babies. Parents of special needs children need their parents support more than anything.

  • Stop comparing our child to others - neurotypical or not. One parent told us when they first received their child's autism diagnosis that their grandparents inundated them with lists and articles about successful and famous figures in history with autism. While it was done with good intentions, comparing our children to anyone else is not helpful. As parents, we want to focus on OUR child and their potential, not stories of other people who may or may not have any similarities to our child.

  • Focus on the present, not the future. As we know, the future is often an uncertainty and if we get caught up in that, we lose sight of the present. Questions like “When will they catch up?” “Will they have to go to a special school?” or “Do you think they’ll be able to live on their own one day?” aren’t helpful. As parents, we’ve thought about all those things and more and the likely answer is “we just don’t know.”

While this article is specific to grandchildren, these suggestions can also apply to anyone good friends, coworkers and anyone is lucky enough to be a part of you and your child’s life.

This is a topic we frequently get asked about so if we haven’t specifically addressed your concerns, please reach out. We’re in this with you and always want to offer our love and support for you as well!

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