Autism can bring different challenges to different members of the family. However, grandparents can often meet particularly difficult challenges, which are exclusive to them, their experience and position within the family.
Here, we will address some of the most common challenges which we hear from grandparents:
“I think my grandchild is autistic, but I’m afraid of saying so to their parents.”
This is a challenge which many grandparents face, particularly whenever a son or daughter has their own first child and does not immediately identify the traits that the child may be demonstrating as unusual. Of course, if you think that your grandchild has autism and their parents have not mentioned it, or they disagree, this can be a very sensitive area to address and one which does not necessarily have a right or wrong answer to.
If you are broaching the topic, especially for the first time, it is hugely important to maintain a positive outlook – to focus on how people with autism can still live very meaningful lives and the earlier you identify the condition and address its challenges the better for all involved. It is important not to push the topic too much, but if you are asked your views, put forward the idea as something to look into in a gentle way.
If you really feel that this is something which may be a cause for concern but are not being listened to, it is important to not feel personally responsible or blame yourself but rather to encourage further investigation gently.
A major role you can play regardless is to learn more about the condition and through that knowledge be able to support and help your grandchild, indeed many of the approaches which can be helpful to children with Autism may be equally helpful to a child with behavioural challenges who is not on the spectrum.
HOW CAN I HELP IF MY GRANDCHILD IS DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM
Should your son or daughter decide to have their child assessed, it can be very challenging and emotionally draining. As a grandparent you can play an important role in supporting your family during this time, bringing your experience to the situation and supporting the family as you take a journey which will hopefully benefit everyone as you find answers and get supports and interventions.
If your grandchild receives a diagnosis of Autism, you may find yourself experiencing a range of emotions. You may feel angry, upset, confused or worried. You may feel relieved once they receive a formal diagnosis and start getting support. Take time to recognise your own emotions, and then you will be more able to support your family as they accept the diagnosis.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I’M STRUGGLING TO UNDERSTAND OR COPE WITH AN AUTISTIC GRANDCHILD’S BEHAVIOUR?
The behaviour of people with Autism can seem difficult and can be tiring and draining, especially if you are unfamiliar with the condition and do not know why your grandchild is behaving in a particular way.
A good first step is making a list of the different behaviours or difficulties your grandchild has and to talk to your son or daughter about what causes these behaviours and how best to deal with them. If you do not want to raise the issue directly perhaps you can find answers by attending a local autism support group meeting, picking up the phone to one of the national support organisations or exploring AsIAm.ie and the other websites we recommend.
The crucial thing to remember is that the behaviours which may be seen as “difficult” or “bold” are not deliberate defiance or caused by pampering. Rather they are something which many people on the spectrum simply find difficult or are a result of an inability to communicate frustration or anxiety.
Equally though, it is understandable if you find that being with your grandchild for a long period tiring. It can be a good idea to be honest with your son and daughter in terms of how much you are able for.
Finally, consistency is important for people with Autism, in how behaviours are addressed and also how the day is managed/planned. Talking to your son and daughter about what they do can be a good way of keeping on top of the challenging behaviour and helping your grandchild to cope when they come to visit or are out and about with you.
HOW WILL I KNOW WHAT BEHAVIOUR TO CHALLENGE & WHAT NOT TO?
You might be asking “Surely people with Autism can be bold too?” or “Where does behaviours brought about by Autism end and being disobedient begin?” and this is a reasonable question. Like any other person, people with Autism have their off-days and can push limits!
Like we mentioned earlier, a good start to this is finding out what the challenges and behaviours your grandchild finds difficult are so as to know we allowances need to be made. Generally people with Autism like to please and value stability so when they are bold they can feel very guilty or sad afterwards – so it is important to ensure your approach to discipline is the same as their parents to ensure the all important “consistency and routine”. This is where an honest conversation can be beneficial for all.
HOW CAN I BUILD & MAINTAIN A RELATIONSHIP WITH AN AUTISTIC GRANDCHILD?
All grandparents have different levels of involvement in their grandchild’s lives. Recognise that you have an important role to play, first of all. The relationship you have with your grandchild may be slightly adapted because of their needs and the needs of the rest of the family. However, by making some changes, such as the way you communicate and places you visit on outings, you can play an active part in your grandchild’s life.
It is important for you to monitor your energy and your time, but by finding out what activities your grandchild enjoys, and planning to do it regularly you can all enjoy a positive relationship.