If you’re the grandparent of an autistic child, you know the guesswork that goes into understanding his or her particular needs. And as adolescence nears, it only intensifies. Ready for the next leg of the journey?
Our grandchildren go from babes in arms, to sitting at our sides and then across the room. Their growth and development come naturally and it’s usually smooth sailing. Yet, for our autistic grands, change is more pronounced and their reactions less predictable.
If our autistic grandson doesn’t take well to humming, buzzing or gadgets near his face, how will he shave?
And when our autistic granddaughter starts to menstruate, will she learn to care for her own hygiene?
During adolescence, the behavior of many autistic children will regress. This can be very troubling for the entire family. Things like mood swings, aggression and sometimes self-injury are common. And while these emotional responses are sometimes difficult to control, we must try to teach a new level of self-care.
In addition to what’s going on with their bodies, social expectations escalate. During high school, our autistic grandkids stand out more than ever and bullying can be a problem; as well as isolation.
As grandparents, we can feel inadequate for the task, yet we’ll want to help our children and grands as much as possible.
Grandparenting through the changes
The first thing we can do is arm ourselves with knowledge. The ability to have an informed conversation with our children about our autistic grandchild not only shows our concern but may help with joint decisions.
Second, when our grands are in need of counseling, we can support by sitting with younger siblings or making a simple meal for all to enjoy on those days.
Thirdly, we can give our children a respite by inviting our autistic gandchild over for movie night, once a week, or taking them along to run errands.
Lastly, we can engage our budding adolescents in conversations about their day at school. And if they want to talk about their electric shaver, we’re all ears.
Sometimes our autistic grandkids surprise with negative reactions but at others with breakthroughs. Like the time my middle-school grandson shoveled my driveway and cleaned the snow from my car without being told.
When I asked him why he had done so, he replied, “Because you’re an old grandma.” Correct!