When You Have a Special Needs Grandchild

It may not be what you expected, but your family needs you now more than ever

Every grandparent hopes and prays that a new grandchild will be healthy. We count our grandson's fingers and toes after he is born. We keep an eye on our granddaughter to make sure she is developing "normally."

Most of the time, we breathe a deep sigh of relief because our grandchild is just fine. But sometimes there are challenges. We may find out that the newest addition to our family has a disability. This news can be very hard to hear. We feel shocked and sad. We are angry. We find it hard to understand how this could have happened to our family. We ache for our grandchild — and for the child's parents.

These feelings are painful. As grandparents, we need to take time to grieve the loss we are feeling. And then we need to get busy. That's because we have many special gifts to offer our families right now. They need us more than ever.

Tips for Dealing with Disabilities

You may be helping the child's parents cope with the child's special needs or you may be raising your grandchild yourself. In either case, you can't take away the pain that you or your grandchild's parents are feeling right now. You can't change what has happened to your grandchild. But you can offer your support to the child and to the rest of the family

  • Show your grandchild every day that you love him for the special person he is.
  • Listen when the child's parents need to talk.
  • Support the decisions they are making, even if you don't agree with all of them.
  • Show that you are interested in the special programs and therapies they have found for the child.
  • Offer to help with household chores.

You can also do a few things to help yourself cope. Even if you are not raising the child, it's important to stay as involved as you can in the child's life. This will help you become more comfortable with his or her condition. Talk to other grandparents who have grandchildren with disabilities. Join a support group for families of children with disabilities. You will feel better when you can share your feelings with people who know what you're going through. You can learn more about the disability. And you may pick up some tips on how to support your family. You might even encourage the grandchild's parents to join a support group.

Learning About Disabilities

Learn as much as you can about your grandchild's condition. This will help you cope with what is happening. A number of conditions can affect young children. Each has its own causes and treatments. Some of the more common disabilities include:

  • Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome 21. This gives them some physical traits that are easy to recognize. Children with Down syndrome grow at a slower rate than other children. They usually are small. Many suffer from mild or moderate mental retardation. Most have problems with hearing and heart disease. Children with Down syndrome do best in a caring home. They can benefit from special services and learning programs.
  • Autism. Autism is a very complex brain disorder. It usually appears by age three, and the causes are largely unknown. Autism affects the way a child interacts with others and his or her world. Many children with autism have trouble socializing with others. They may be slow to talk. They may be very sensitive to sound or to being touched. Some therapies can help children with autism. The sooner these therapies begin, the better a child will do.
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Unborn babies can develop FAS when their mothers drink alcohol while they are pregnant. This hurts the child's central nervous system. Children with FAS grow at a slower rate than other kids. They also can suffer from mental retardation. Some may have learning disabilities. They often have serious behavior problems. There is no cure for FAS. But special services that can help these children cope.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD have trouble sitting still or paying attention. Some experts say that these children may not have enough of certain brain chemicals that help everyone pay attention and control their behavior. Medication, counseling and various therapies are used to treat ADHD. Your grandchild probably won't "outgrow" ADHD. But he or she can learn to adapt to it and do well in school.
  • Learning Disabilities. A learning disability may make it hard for your grandchild to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do math. One of the most common learning disabilities is dyslexia. People with dyslexia have trouble reading and understanding words, sentences and paragraphs. Learning disabilities don't go away. People live with them their whole lives. But children who get the right support can become good students and successful adults. That support includes tutoring and various therapies.

Fighting for Your Grandchild

Finding out that your grandchild has a disability is difficult. And raising a child with a disability is challenging. You and your family can meet this challenge if you work together and support one another.

There are many professionals who are ready to help your grandchild. You or your grandchild's parents can find these professionals by calling the local public school. All schools have special services for children with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets the rules for who can receive these special education services. If qualified, it ensures an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) is designed especially to meet that child's needs. And your grandchild may be able to get services even before starting kindergarten.

Parents and grandparents must be strong advocates for a child with special needs. It's often up to you to make sure the child gets the help that he or she needs and deserves. Grandchildren with disabilities can't fight for themselves. We have to do it for them. These children need extra support. But they can be happy and healthy — and a special gift to their families!

This article originally appeared on aarp.org.


can someone suggest a good cookbook for gluten free/caesin free. my grandson is 3 and is autistic.

Verna Bell

vernabell on 2012-09-15 13:39:09

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