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Autism Awareness: Increasing Grandparents Confidence in Spending Time with these Grandkids

Are you a grandparent with a grandchild who has autism? Are you feeling a little lost and unsure of how to connect with your grandchild? You're not alone. Many grandparents feel this way, but there are things you can do to help build that bond and make the relationship stronger. Read on for some tips and strategies to help increase your confidence and comfort.

Recently I had the pleasure of doing a video interview with Autism expert Jessica Leichtweisz. She is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst and a Behavior Specialist. The topic was how can grandparents and extended family be more comfortable in caring and spending time with their loved ones with Autism. It was a great conversation and we have also included the recorded video for you to give you the full picture. On April 2 it is National Autism Awareness Day, and the month of April is also dedication to bring light to the topic of Autism so we thought this would be a good time to share.

What is Autism? Children born with Autism can have trouble in three areas.

1. Communication

2. Socialization or Social Skills. How they get along with others.

3. Range of Interests.

Genetic links have been associated with Autism. Dr. Coury mentions “1/54 males are diagnosed with Autism.” We are learning more about greater risks through genetics, but we do not know a definitive cause. The term “spectrum” is used because there is a wide range of severity from mild to severe. With no cause currently there is no prevention.

Parents of these special needs children carry a big burden. I remember Jessica telling me that she sees comments often from parents stating they wish they could have a night out, but it is hard to find someone that is comfortable to sit with their child. Often, grandparents and extended family are good choices to provide some support to their children and the grandkids. What if they are not comfortable with caring for the child with Autism. “What if they act out and I can’t handle them?” “What if I can’t get them to eat?” “What if I can’t understand what they want?”. These types of concerns are what may cause grandparents and other family members to hesitate to care for these children for any extended length of time.

So, what can we do to make this more of a labor of love than a situation filled with some fear and anxiety?

One of the first barriers in this relationship is stems from the grandparents not understanding what Autism is. There are generational gaps we need to understand. Years ago, when us baby boomers were younger, there was more stigmatism placed on those children with special needs. Things were not out in the open as much as they are today. Grandparents may still carry some of their beliefs with them and may need some encouragement to talk about the subject. Jessica explains that back in the 60’s autistic children were taken from their mothers and put in an institution and many questionable forms of treatment they were subjected to. This may have something to do with the fear and hesitancy of the grandparents.

Jessica shares with us in this interview that parents should not keep the autism a secret. Parents feel they are protecting the child’s privacy but, in many ways, they are denying the grandparents to have a relationship with their grandchild. The grandparent does not know how to have a relationship with their autistic grandchild without the help of the parents.

Many of these children have Behavior Therapists with routine appointments. Many autistic children undergo sessions with Applied Behavior Analysis. These sessions help them learn social skills, language skills, as well as everyday life skills. The whole goal of these sessions is to help the child reach their fullest potential.

Jessica suggests that it would be great if the grandparents or extended family member could attend some of these sessions. You could learn first-hand and feel more involved and less fearful. This will certainly lead to more confidence the more involved you are. Siblings and cousins are encouraged to participate as well and can be good role models for behavior. Ten or more hours of therapy sessions per week are common. Take the time to learn about what might trigger a behavior issue and what are the most successful ways to handle them.

As a grandparent don’t be upset if your adult child or in-law wants to set some boundaries. These may be necessary, and we can avoid less conflict if we respect them. It takes a village I always say but when we are dealing with a special need child, we do have to treat them differently and as mentioned earlier if a grandparent can attend some of the ABA sessions, it will give you enlightened information and help the parents feel more comfortable with their child in your care.

As parents, we need to be clear and upfront about when we need a break. Maybe you need a massage or go and get a pedicure. Grandparents may not always know when you need a break. Be honest and upfront when you need some “me time”.

Grandparents will need to be taught how to interact with your child. Teach the common words or sounds they use when trying to ask for something. Maybe “e” means they want milk. If the grandparents bring a coloring book and crayons and you know the child doesn’t like to color, make sure your child’s ideal play toys are communicated to the grandparents. If your child likes trucks make sure the grandparents know this so they can choose appropriate gifts as well as know how to play with their grandchild. Grandparents can feel rejected when they can’t provide things that bring pleasure to their grandchild.

Many children with Autism have food selectivity issues. Many kids may already be working with a “food therapist”. Their choices in food may be limited and driven by color, what they taste like or by what type of texture they have. Maybe they don’t like crunchy foods or foods that are soft and mushy. These are all important things to know when if comes time to feeding your grandchild with Autism. You don’t want this to be a battle but an enjoyable time with your grandchild. It can be. It just may need a bit more preparation and learning on the grandparent’s part to make this time spent with your grandchild enjoyable for you as well as the child. Being the grandparent, just accept that your time with them might not be the right time to try and get your grandchild to try a new food. It’s o.k. The key here is spending more time on finding out what they do like instead of experiencing what they don’t like!

So, there you have it! Our top tips and strategies to help grandparents and other extended family members be confident and comfortably spending some extended time with their autistic grandchildren. We hope that this information is helpful for you, but if you have any questions or would like more detailed advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. And don’t forget to join our VIP list to get early bird updates, exclusive content such as checklists and more. Resources are listed below. Jessica has several e-books that can be downloaded for free. We encourage you to check them out!

Thanks for stopping by and we will see you soon!!



Jessica Leichtweisz:

What is Autism: Dr. Daniel Coury Chief Developmental/Behavioral Pediatrics

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