It’s dinnertime. You’re calling everyone to the table but there seems to be a problem. One of your grandchildren has autism and you’re not sure how to include them in the family meal.
First, it’s all about family. Your autistic grandson or daughter is your family. They may not wish to come to the table or to eat the same foods as everyone else, but they belong to the group.
You can set a small table off to the side and serve them there. Allow them to eat their favorite foods and include them in the conversation. The goal is to draw them into the family setting. They may not speak to you but refer to them. Ask them if they like their chicken tenders or would they like another glass of milk. Their parents may need to answer for them.
Be watchful as they eat. You may be able to set a new food item on the side of their plate. If they protest, take it away and thank them for allowing you to approach with it. If they smell it, even better. One day, they may taste it.
Leave an empty chair at the table. They may surprise you by jumping right in with a toy or a book. Always invite but be careful not to force. An autistic child that enjoys being in the same room may join in when ready.
The best thing we can do is show our love
As grandparents, we must remember that when our autistic grandchildren are in our homes, they’re not in their most comfortable setting. They may be anxious and need to be alone or may act out.
Our children and our grandchildren need our love most of all. Both are in a struggle to find what works and the answers are highly individualized. One of the best things we can do about meals is to keep a stock of the food items our grandchild will eat. Then be advised by our children how to invite into the dining room.
The table sits ready. It’s a welcoming place for all who would gather there. Each one brings their likes, dislikes, modes of communication and topics to discuss. That’s what makes us a family–even with autism.