Being a Grandparent to a Special Needs Child

Ask any parent and they will tell you that raising children is no easy task. And while grandparents, having reached the stage when the responsibilities of providing everyday care no longer falls to them, typically have it easier than parents, those with a special needs grandchild may find the experience sometimes challenging.

One Grandmother’s Story

Marianna raised two sons and a daughter and while she says that they went through the typical struggles, especially when her children were teenagers, her kids were always respectful and well-behaved.

When she found that she was going to become a grandparent, Marianna was excited at the notion of having fun with her grandchild without any of the work associated with parenting. “I felt blessed,” she says.

By the time that her grandson was a toddler, though, Marianna found that spending time with him was often frustrating and exhausting. “He was a handful. He couldn’t sit still, not even for short periods of time, and he seemed to take pleasure in breaking the rules.”

Marianna’s daughter-in-law, who is a teacher, worried that her son’s conduct was indicative of a burgeoning behaviour disorder and asked his doctor for a referral so that the boy could be professionally assessed.

After his diagnosis, Marianna admits that she doubted its validity, feeling that if his parents would simply provide firm guidance, her grandson would be easier to handle.

“I sat there listening to my son rattle off all of these statistics and these odd sounding names. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was my grandson’s initial diagnosis and then a few years later, they added Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

Now that I understand that these are very real disorders, I’m ashamed to admit that in the beginning, my husband and I said (only to each other, of course) that our grandson suffered from not from ADHD or ODD, but from BRAT.”

Generational Differences

Doubting the diagnosis of a behaviour disorder isn’t an uncommon reaction—especially amongst people who haven’t experienced raising a child with ADHD, ODD, or any condition that impacts a child’s ability to conform and cooperate.

And while kids’ behaviour disorders have certainly been around for as long as there have been children, it is only in recent decades that many of them have been identified and named.

“When I was raising my children, I remember the occasional schoolmate who always seemed to be acting up, but back then, it was just assumed that the behaviour was a result of lax parenting,” says Marianna. “I know better now.”

Understanding and Accepting

“My grandson is a wonderful boy,” says Marianna. “He is bright and funny, and his energy, when properly channelled, can be an asset, rather than a liability.”

Marianna’s oldest grandchild (she now has three) has benefited greatly from both medication and consistent expectations. While she is able to be more flexible with her younger grandkids, she has learned to be very steady in her interactions with her first.

“When he knows what will happen, he handles everything better. Last-minute changes in plans or inconsistencies in the rules from his house to ours really upset him,” she says, “so we make every effort to be sensitive to his needs.”

Unconditional Love

Many adults look back on the relationships that they had with their grandparents with great fondness.

The very fact that grandparents aren’t usually responsible for seeing that the children eat a nutritious diet, keep up on their schoolwork, and develop healthy associations with friends means that there is often very little conflict in the grandparent/grandchild relationship.

Grandparents are free to simply accept their grandchildren as they are and to enjoy each one’s special gifts.

Marianna does just that. “All three of my grandchildren are blessings in my life,” she says. “They are unique individuals with kind hearts and big smiles. And those smiles are utterly contagious.”

See Also
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Visiting and Hosting Grandchildren
Proud grandfather with his granddaughter
Protecting the Rights of Grandchildren