7 Tips On How to Be the Best Grandparent to a Special Needs Child

How to Be the Best Grandparent to a Special Needs Child

One question that I am frequently asked by parents of children with whom I work, is how they as parents should handle the questions and advice that they are often given from members of their own family.

Normally, I would write this article to help the parents of children who have some sort of developmental delay, whether it be autism, downs syndrome, global development delay or sensory processing disorder. However today, I want to talk to another group of you; the aunts, uncles, and especially the grandparents of children with special needs.

Whether a child is born with a disability or disorder, or whether it develops later in life, the child’s special needs are likely to affect the entire family. Grandparents are no exception. Grandparents can and should play a vital role in providing support for their adult children, often helping care for their grandchild. However, moving through this very sensitive area can be challenging. Therefore, my article today will focus on giving you a few tips on how to support your adult child while at the same time, making your time spent with your special needs grandchild more rewarding

So how do you help?

Recognize the Need to Grieve

Typically, parents are not prepared for the birth of a child with special needs. Unexpected diagnosis of disabilities and disorders can come as quite a shock. Your adult child has lost something; not a child, but an expectation of the way things could have gone. They need time to grieve this loss. They need you to grieve with them. So, go easy on your adult child and give him or her time to accept whatever diagnosis was given. Optimism is great, however, there still needs to be time to grieve what was lost. Though you may be called upon for various types of support, acknowledging feelings of fear, disappointment, and anger are critical before your adult children can move forward and attend to the many tasks at hand. You may want to take the pain away from your adult child, but that’s not possible. You can’t change what’s happened, but you can offer support to your child and his or her family.

Give Assurance

One fear that I hear from parents of children with special nees is that they worry that their parents will not feel the same way about their special needs child as they do about their other children. Special needs children can be harder to connect with and your adult child is noticing and likely struggling with that as well. A special needs child can’t do all of the things that other grandchildren can do. You, as the grandparent, might have to show your love to your grandchild by finding a different way to enter their world. There may not be trips to the zoo or grandparent’s day at school. But you will find ways in which to connect with your special needs grandchild that work specifically for him or her, and this is especially important to your son or daughter.

Do Some Research

Once you know what your grandchild’s diagnosis is, learn as much as possible about their special needs. This will help you understand how to be most helpful. Avoid internet sites and other unreliable sources. Instead, learn from your grandchild’s parents and other healthcare providers. They can provide resources that will give you accurate and current information and advice.

Avoid Asking Questions About the Future

No one knows, right now, and your adult child is most likely scared to death to even think about their special needs child’s future. They don’t know if your grandchild will improve, or if their disability will remain the same or possibly even worsen. The future is unknown. Therefore, try to avoid asking questions about the future, because they don’t have any answers, and the questions will only cause more anxiety.


Be Reassuring

Your adult child is flying blindly and is most likely very scared that he or she might not have what it takes to handle this new world they are finding themselves in. They have been thrust into a world that they were not prepared to enter, and one that they know nothing about. They need the reassurance to know that they are strong enough to handle this new normal.

Don’t Tell Them Stories About Other Kids With Disabilities

When you have a child with a special need, everyone suddenly becomes an expert on whatever diagnosis the child has. Parents are bombarded with advice and stories of how other children overcame this or that problem. I know you want to help, but it comes across as you wanting to ‘fix’ the child and all your adult child wants you to do is love your grandchild.

Love Your Grandchild

Of course, you do already, but don’t be afraid. Regardless of your grandchild’s severity, he or she has many gifts and will undoubtedly enrich your life.

To your adult child, their child’s special need seems huge right now. But one day it will be better. Be patient with your adult child and go along the journey together.

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Jason Spear Miller