Expecting a child is a family affair. Parents, grandparents and siblings excitedly anticipate the new baby’s arrival all the while subconsciously projecting their respective inner visions of the perfect family addition onto a tiny, unsuspecting infant. Ten fingers, ten toes, Dad’s ears, Grandma’s nose. A science and math whiz? A little league all star? President??
What happens if the new baby has has special needs – Down syndrome? Autism? Cerebral palsy? Other disabilities? The whole family grieves – shock and disbelief (denial); blame (anger) and disappointment (bargaining), sadness and depression; acceptance, reality and action.
As grandparents, you play an important role in your grieving family. Here are five ways that you can be an A+ Grandparent to your special needs grandchild:
1) Recognize your own feelings of pain and loss and take care of yourself. Nurturing yourself physically and emotionally will give you strength to meet the challenges ahead. Exercise, diet and friendships will help you replenish yourself so that you may be fully present and supportive with your family. If necessary, speak with a therapist to gain insight into your feelings and gain resources that will allow you to successfully navigate your new family dynamics. Join a support group for special needs grandparents. Empathy goes farther than sympathy. And, you will be amazed at the amount of good information that you receive from those who already have walked a mile in your shoes.
2) Follow your child’s lead. Adjusting to a special needs child takes time. Deciding how much to share and when are intensely personal decisions for your child. Some parents will choose to keep the details about your grandchild to a minimum while others will be open and comfortable sharing almost everything. Whichever path they choose, be a supportive traveling companion.
3) Inform yourself and your family, if they are open to it. Learn everything that you can about you grandchild’s condition. The library and bookstores are great places to start. Woodbine House and Future Horizons are online bookstores with extensive special needs collections. Authoritative internet sites like the National Institutes of Health, for example, can also provide reliable information.
4) Give your child a break today. Taking care of a special needs child can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting. Encourage your child and their spouse to take time for themselves as a couple while you babysit. They need to replenish their reserves and renew their bond so that they may be the best parents that they can be. Also, Care.com gives special needs families the opportunity to search for and interview potential caregivers in their communities.
5) Love your grandchild unconditionally. Play with them just for play’s sake. Listen to them and really hear what they are saying. Do not underestimate their ability to learn or their capacity to keenly feel emotions. Look closely at them through grandparents’ eyes and see the gift that they are.autism, Autistic Children, babies, children with autism, children with down syndrome, grandparents, parents, play, special needs