As the grandparents of a little boy on the autistic spectrum, we have joined several organizations to help us become better parents and grandparents. Although we're both researchers and consider ourselves knowledgeable people, there has just been too much to learn on our own, so we are grateful to benefit from the work of so many others.
When Autism becomes part of your larger family life, things turn upside down. I'm sure it's true for any of you who have grandchildren with special needs. First, everyone has to deal with the stages of acceptance of the reality that these grandchildren need many kinds of services, the more the better when they are very young.
Watching your own children cope with the emotional rollercoasters they must ride is difficult enough. In addition, seeing the unremitting pressures on them as they try to balance work with childcare that goes beyond the norm and with all of the extra costs of services not covered by insurance or the municipality, can makes you as the older generation feel quite worried for their well-being.
We are learning, by trial and error and by talking a lot with our son and daughter in law, what we can do to relieve their unavoidable stress. We live across the country from them, so we can't just hop over and babysit on a regular basis. We don't have the financial resources to relieve them very much that way either. (What has helped us tremendously is being able to read the blog our daughter in law writes on their daily life, which gives us a glimpse of what they are experiencing.)
What we can do is listen when they need to talk.
What we can do is continue to educate ourselves about the Autistic spectrum.
What we can do is try to create an atmosphere, when they are with us, that allows them to relax.
That means being aware of what helps our sweet grandson relax. He loves being with his equally young cousins when they don't overwhelm him with noise, for example. He does best when we provide quiet places for him to retreat to when he needs that. Careful timing and pacing of visits is helpful too. And of course spending precious time with him while giving his parents some time to themselves is always appreciated.
Recently we got an online newsletter from the Autism Society of America with excellent tips on how to make big family holidays happier for your autistic grandchildren and everyone else. Click on this link to read the whole article.
Here are some ideas from the article that we have found especially helpful:
1. create transitions to help your grandchildren get used to larger numbers of people, such as talking to them about who will be coming to visit;
2. take them to a quiet place to play or outside for a walk to help them calm down when there is too much activity;
3. plan ahead: ask other family members to spend one on one time with them during the visit;
4. if the children are old enough, give them appropriate tasks (such as handing out napkins)so they can help out too--everybody likes to feel needed and useful.
Autism in the family is a challenge. So little is still known about the condition, and so much is being discovered daily. The learning curve is steep. Making family holidays into events that everybody can enjoy is not easy even when Autism is not an issue (psychotherapists can attest to that!), so there actually may be a hidden benefit here. As grandparents we are pushed to become more aware of our ability to help our families celebrate holidays happily and our power to make good things happen through conscious action.
To learn more about Lynne Berrett, click here for her bio in the Best Parent Coaching Directory.