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Grandparents Can Be a Big Help In Families with Special Needs



Grandparents can play an important role in their special needs grandchild's life.

Grandparents can provide helpful ongoing support to grandchildren with special needs and their parents. Follow these tips for parents and grandparents of children with special needs to help establish meaningful connections and strong relationships.

For parents

The days immediately after your child receives a special needs diagnosis can be difficult, but remember you are not alone; your extended family already comprises a great support group.

Special needs diagnoses, therapies and educational approaches have changed dramatically in recent decades. Grandparents might not be familiar with these developments, so parents often need to take steps to inform them adequately.

Lisa Lightner, a Pennsylvania blogger and mother whose child has special needs, says that honesty and frankness are crucial to help grandparents understand how they can help most.

Events such as large family gatherings pose specific challenges for some special needs children, says Lightner. “When it comes to family gatherings, be honest and plan ahead.  Take two cars and special food if necessary and ask your hosts about expectations you are unclear about.”

Establishing routines or rituals such as a weekly lunch or story time can foster a good grandparent-grandchild relationship and mesh with the parents’ routine.

A few easy steps can help grandparents become a positive force in the lives of their grandchildren with special needs.

Lightner suggests that parents help grandparents research and understand the child’s condition. This knowledge can help determine good ways to participate supportively. She notes that every disability is different and requires a different approach.

Sheila Evans is a Delaware grandmother of a 4-year-old on the autism spectrum. She emphasizes the need to treat a grandchild with special needs as a child first and foremost, not a “special needs child.”

“I don’t see him as a special needs child, nor do I treat him as one,” she says of her grandson. “I treat him the same way I treat his siblings, with no special privileges.” She advises other grandparents to “stay positive, support your grandchildren as much as you can, always tell them how unique they are, and that they have much to offer their family and the world.”

Remember that you’re not just a grandparent, you’re a parent too, suggests Colleeen Brosnan, writing in the magazine Parenting Special Needs. Your child is undoubtedly under strain coping with the demands of special needs parenting. By filling your role as your child’s parent, your love and support can go a long way toward helping their whole family.

Grandparents frequently make monetary gifts or contributions to their grandchild’s savings, but this can unintentionally cause problems for Medicare and Supplemental Security Income eligibility. Frederick P. Neimann, a New Jersey special needs attorney, says that “a grandchild’s future is made more secure by making modest monetary gifts directly to the parents, and any larger ones to a grandchild’s singular Special Needs Trust (SNT).”

Grandparents can play a useful role to support their child’s family with special needs. But it can take education, planning and good communication to maximize their contributions.

Will Bacha is a recent MetroKids intern and graduate of Temple University.

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