Grandparents and Children with Special Needs
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And while Jordan, now 8 years old, might get a little extra doting from her grandfather, generally, He-Daddy and Granny (as the kids call them) treat all their grandkids the same.
"It's a position you never hope to find yourself in, but the benefits are large," says Bryan. "Maggie has a leg up because she has a gallery of people who adore her and a great support system for her parents."
When parents understandably have their hands full, a little one-on-one time with the special-needs child can make the difference between success in school or simply learning to tie a shoe. "Even nonverbal kids have special abilities if you can help cultivate them," encourages Thompson. And, "many autistic kids are brilliant. Helping them find that special area of interest makes you feel good and realize you're really making a contribution to their life."
Getting Your Parents More Involved
One way to engage your parents into your family's transition is to involve them in the education process. The more your parents know about your child's diagnosis, the more they'll be inclined to help.
"Let them read your books. Let them learn from the experts the parents are learning from and then let them learn how to assist," says Leister.
But this process shouldn't stop at books—education can transcend into support at a doctor's visit or meeting with therapists. Often, grandparents (or any extra pair of ears) can help filter out the emotional noise you may be experiencing out of frustration or grief, suggests Leister.
And an extra pair of ears and an extra set of hands can go a long way for a busy parent juggling the needs of multiple kids, especially if one child has special needs. It's not uncommon for grandparents to offer respite to parents.
If a grandparent expresses nervousness at the notion of caring for the child alone, ask a trusted caregiver or friend to stay with the grandparent during the first couple of visits. "Maybe a good friend could stop in and have a cup of coffee," Thompson suggests. Work up to short periods of one-on-one grandparent time if your mom or dad feels up to it.
But don't be disappointed if your own parents don't offer up their babysitting services-patience is a virtue of great benefit to parents with a special-needs child, says Leister. Plus, you should expect a period of adjustment amongst family members after your child's diagnosis. "While going through the adjustment phase, there is normal anxiety," Leister says. "There needs to be patience for everybody to work through the normal adjustment phase."
More than anything, keep an open mind when it comes to delegating responsibilities to your child's grandparents. "Many grandparents are very rigid about what they want to do," says Thompson. "If they don't want to be involved, or if they make the grandchild feel there's something wrong with them, you don't want them around anyway." Leister agrees: "Don't force it. Don't be in denial. It all goes back to adjusting to everybody's needs and comfort level."
What Do You Do When Your Parents Declare "Hands-Off"?
Not all grandparents are willing or able to pitch in. Don't harbor hard feelings if your parents choose to keep their distance, says Thompson.
You, as a parent, have plenty to focus on rather than forcing a relationship with your child on your parent. There are, however, some things you can do to bolster the rapport. The key to drawing in a hesitant grandparent is communication and understanding, according to Leister. Explain what you need, yet be willing to meet them where they are in the process.
Dr. Larry Watson, a private therapist and social worker, agrees. "If the child has medical needs, enable the grandparents. Make sure they have all the information and understand what's going on," he says. "This will help them treat the child with normalcy. The disability is not who they are. They are [children] with a disability—not a disabled child."
When a grandparent is willing and able to help, start by asking that he or she take any of your children for special one-on-one time, Watson offers. "That fosters really special memories for the kids that [they] carry through their lives."