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Grandparenting the Child with Autism

Updated on March 21, 2017
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Honey has spent more than 40 years caring for children of all ages as a babysitter, mom, step-mom, and gramma.


Grandparenting a Child With Autism

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder typically have multiple symptoms that vary in their severity. These symptoms can include but are not limited to the following:

  • sensory overload meltdown
  • inability to communicate their wants, needs, likes, or dislikes
  • lack of fearfulness when appropriate or fearful when inappropriate
  • obsessive compulsive disorders such as constantly attempting to leave surroundings or repeatedly opening and shutting the refrigerator door
  • inability to speak or speaks words or phrases without the ability to converse
  • has difficulty transitioning into different surroundings
  • suddenly hits, pinches, or bites for no apparent reason

Caring for a child with these symptoms is challenging. It requires strength and agility. Unfortunately, many grandparents discover that they are unable to care for their grandchild without help due to the deterioration of their own strength and agility. However, understanding the symptoms and knowing ways to combat them or diminish them makes it possible for grandparents to have a healthy, loving relationship with their grandchild.

Understanding the Difference Between Sensory Overload or a Temper Tantrum in an Autistic Child

Many people who know little or nothing about autism mistake sensory overload meltdown symptoms as a temper tantrum. While they appear to be quite similar, knowing the difference can aid in calming the child with autism down. The temper tantrum results from a child's disappointment in not getting what they want; whereas, the sensory overload meltdown results from uncontrollable pain or fear caused by multiple stimuli in their environment that attack their senses simultaneously. For example, light or an unusual odor may suddenly cause the child pain somewhat to the same effect these have on a migraine sufferer. Many children with autism also suffer from gastrointestinal problems which may also play a role in their meltdown. In addition, objects or sounds in the room may overwhelm them or appear to be coming at them causing them to feel agitated or fearful. Dimming the lights, neutralizing odors, lowering or silencing voices or sounds, and removing objects in the room may help bring the meltdown to an end. It's probably wise for the grandparent not to get too close to the child during the meltdown as they may punch, kick, slap, or bite. After the child calms down, they may be more susceptible to being comforted; however, proceed with caution.

Understanding Gift Giving With an Autistic Child

Grandparents, often, want to give their grandchildren anything their little hearts desire. But, what can they do if the child cannot tell them what it is they want or need? Of course, they can find out from the parents what treats, if any, the child likes.

Another thing they might do is stop at the store and bring a variety of snacks or toys and hope something delights them. However, many children with autism are picky eaters; and, some children with autism will not play with toys or may only have one or two toys they will play with. In addition, even when some children accept a snack or toy, they may not show any signs of excitement. That doesn't necessarily mean that they don't enjoy it. The next time you visit they may look in your bag to see if you brought the same treat again. Although, the child may not be able to talk or communicate, they, often, hear and sometimes, understand what's being said and done around them. If you bring special cookies that they eat up, bring them more the next time you visit.

Providing a Consistent Environment

Children with autism, often, experience meltdowns or may become overly rambunctious or violent when taken out of their familiar surroundings or when their routine is disturbed. In addition, they may not be able to fall asleep at somebody else's house. For these reasons, as well as, the risk of danger in other environments, it may be safer and easier for the grandparent to babysit at the child's home. Many children with autism cannot comprehend danger. They would open the window and climb out or walk right into traffic while watching it come at them if they had the opportunity. Even if the child has never tried to escape the confinements of home before, it's important to make sure all the doors and windows are secure at all times. It's also important to know where the child is at all times.

Be Mindful of Your Physical Abilities

A grandparent may not be strong enough or be able to move quick enough to avoid being hurt if the child suddenly pounces on them. The child may be smiling one minute and then attack the next. Somehow they seem to get you in the most sensitive places like pinching the skin that hangs down from your arm or biting you on the shoulder. When you try to escape their clutch you may hurt yourself even further because you are not as agile as you need to be to avoid twisting your back or to avoid some other injury.

You may have other health ailments that make caring for your grandchild difficult. The best thing to do if this applies to you is to have someone help you. The challenges involved in taking care of your grandchild may exceed what you are physically capable of providing; however, your grandchild will know and feel your love as long as you spend time with him or her and do the best you can.


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I can't even imagine. This is where love comes in, and continues, and strengthens everyone involved.....

      hugs from Olympia

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      The child's inability to communicate feelings must be very trying for both child and grandparent. I can only imagine. Thanks for the education to make us more and aware and more understanding.

    • HoneyBB profile image

      Honey Halley 3 weeks ago from Illinois

      Thnank you Billy and Ms Dora for reading. It is hard to imagine. My two grandsons have autism and I have arthritis and lung disease so trying to take care of them kills me. I love them so much and would have them over all the time if I could.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Honey.....What you share here is invaluable information so necessary for people (grandparents especially) to know in caring for a child with autism. I could have never guessed you have grandchildren, honey! Believe me, I can relate to how very much we love them and want the very best for them. You are a wonderfully sensitive Grandmother...bless you.

      I am so sorry to know you must deal with health issues....arthritis & lung disease? Honey, you are amazing and I wish you well....please take care of yourself. You're an extraordinary woman! Hugs, Paula

    • HoneyBB profile image

      Honey Halley 2 weeks ago from Illinois

      Thanks paula, yes, my oldest grandson turned 10 in Feb. He still jumps in my arms when i see him. :) but ouch! I was always such an active person so having these illnesses makes it hard for me to accept I can't do all that I once could. You are a wonderful friend to have recognizing the value in what I share and giving me a g head with your big heart and all your wonderful compliments. Take care paula and thanks again.

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