If your grandchild has special needs, it’s difficult to know how to be there for both them and their parents. The best thing a grandparent can do to support his or her special needs child is to spend time with the child and talk to the child’s parents about the best way to handle the child’s behavior.
Bond With Your Grandchild
It’s important for your grandchild to feel that you accept him or her unconditionally. Sometimes grandparents think that they can “fix” a special needs child. Resist the temptation to do this, especially if your ideas contradict the treatment that the child’s parents have decided is appropriate. Trying to intervene in the child’s disability will only frustrate everybody. The child will feel that he or she is not good enough for you and the child’s parents will feel that you don’t respect their decisions.
Instead, treat the child the same way you treated him or her before knowing about the special needs. Spend time playing and talking with the child. Resist the urge to educate the child and don’t engage in disciplinary measures that contradict the parents’ discipline style.
Don’t cut short visits with your grandchild or avoid visiting him or her at all when you find out about the special needs diagnosis. Your grandchild will think he or she did something wrong if you do this and may even think that you do not love them anymore. Similarly, don’t visit more often than you usually do. If you seem too desperate to spend time with your grandchildren, it’ll make everybody uncomfortable and your grandchild may get anxious.
Even if your grandchild’s disability causes him or her to be unable to speak, continue talking and interacting with them as usual. Some disabilities will affect the child less if he or she gets plenty of intellectual stimulation and early intervention, and talking and interacting with grandparents can be part of the intervention plan.
If the child asks you to help him or her with schoolwork, don’t hesitate to do so. However, make sure you are not doing the child’s work for him or her. There’s a tendency sometimes to do this out of sympathy for the special needs child, but the child needs to do their own schoolwork to be able to reach their potential. In addition, you should find out from the child’s parents how to approach schoolwork with the child so that you don’t frustrate them and yourself trying to help in a way that the child cannot understand.
Follow the Parents’ Lead
When it comes to supporting your special needs grandchild, you need to follow the parents’ lead on everything from treatment to talking about the special needs. This can be very difficult, especially if you know something about the particular disability. Your natural inclination may be to treat the child or situation differently than the parents would, but this just leads to unnecessary tension.
Talk with the child’s parents about what the special needs diagnosis means and what their treatment plan is. Learn how the parents handle discipline, feeding issues, schoolwork and other issues related to the disability. Try as best as you can to support their efforts by doing the same things they are doing when you are with the child. If you can master this, you can give the parents a much-needed break by babysitting for them, which also will give you the opportunity to bond with and support your grandchild.
Try to attend support groups and other events related to the disability with your grandchild’s parents if you can so that you can learn about your grandchild’s disability and support his or her parents at the same time. That way, you are on the same page rather than the parents feeling that you are trying to undermine their authority or take over the care of their child.
Consult an Attorney About Financial Support
You may want to help financially support your special needs grandchild, especially if he or she needs to go to a special school or must get expensive medical treatment. However, some forms of support might disqualify the child from receiving disability benefits as an adult. Thus, you should consult an attorney familiar with disability law before offering financial support to your special needs grandchild.
Guest blogger Tom Demers writes for Assisted Living Today, a leading source of information on senior care, including information on finding the perfect assisted living facility for your loved ones.