As Mother’s Day approaches, I begin to think about my two beloved grandmothers who played a huge role in my life. They helped shaped me in so many different ways and I cherish each and every memory of our time together. For grandmothers who have grandchildren diagnosed with autism, understanding the role they can play in their grandchild's life is not always clear. But their are many ways that with supports and education, those grandmothers can still make a wonderful impact in their grandchildren's lives. Here are some tips towards making that happen.
1. Educate yourself and other adults and children in your family: Spend some time reading about autism and becoming fully knowledgeable about causes, treatments, and behaviors.
Try to explain autism to other adults and children in the family so that they can also understand the child’s behavior. It's very important to remember and understand that if you have met one child with autism, you have only met one child with autism. Every child with autism is different. Every child has different strengths and weaknesses and treatment must be planned according to his or her needs. The following are some website resources and books geared towards educating grandparents.
Autism Grandparents Support Group
2. Deal with your own emotions/feelings about the diagnosis: It is important to work on figuring out how you feel about having a grandchild with autism. If you begin to feel guilty, powerless, helpless, denial, shocked, or angry, maybe take some time to speak to a professional or friend about your feelings. This is important because you do not want to project your feelings onto the child’s parents who are already dealing with their own stress and emotions.
3. Be an active part of your grandchild’s life: If possible, schedule daily, weekly or monthly special time for you and your grandchild. Remember, children with autism need predictable and consistent schedules. Try to find regular structured activities that you can do together. Ask the child’s parents about what he or she will enjoy doing and not become frustrated. When participating in activities together, make sure to respect the rules and boundaries that have been set by mom and dad. Also, some children with autism may have dietary restrictions so make sure you know what your grandchild can and cannot eat. It may take a while to connect with your granddaughter or grandson with autism. Have patience. You may want to kiss and hug the child, but remember that can be sensory overload for him or her. Ask if you can attend the child’s treatment sessions so that you can learn more about his or her strengths and weaknesses, and ways you can help them when spending time alone together.
4. Help out with other child(ren): The other child(ren) in the family may feel left out because parents are focusing a lot of their time and energy on the child with autism. Try to also schedule regular daily, weekly, or monthly regular special time with them. They will appreciate you working on developing a special connection and bond with them.
5. Offer help and support: A child with autism can have a huge affect on a marriage. Offer babysitting services so that parents can spend a few hours together outside the home to reconnect. Or you can try to help out around the house with basic household chores. If you do not live near your grandchild, ask how you can help out financially. Raising a child with autism can be very expensive, and parents will be extremely grateful for any financial support. Parents will also appreciate having a person they can talk to and a shoulder to cry on. Make sure they know that you are always available to listen. It is vital that they do not feel judged or blamed for their child’s diagnosis. Try to schedule some alone time with them. They will appreciate having a calm person in their life. Remind them of your love and support.
6. Find Outside Support, Outreach and Advocacy: You can also help your grandchild indirectly by connecting with different online networking groups and finding out the latest about events and research. Volunteer with different charity organization or donate money. Advocate and help make a change in areas such as autism legislation, research funding, special education programs, employment opportunities and housing services.
Dr. Frances Victory received her PhD in Developmental Psychology at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Her thesis was titled, "Exploring the Role of Perceived Religiosity on Daily Life, Coping, and Parenting for Jewish Parents of Children with Autism." You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org