You can make a deep and life changing impact on your grandchildren by being supportive to their parents and them whether you live nearby or far away. Support, affirmation and love will help to get your family through the challenges of raising a child with autism.
Research shows that early, frequent and loving involvement of family members is one of the best ways to help children with ASD. Grandparents can give their families respect, acceptance, love and happy memories. Here are some suggestions about how you can regularly stay in touch, communicate and play an important role in your grandchildren’s lives.
- Learn as much as possible about autism. Information about how children with autism see the world, how they communicate and act, will help you to understand and connect with your grandchild. Autism Speaks is a great site with answers to questions you may have and it provides lots of family resources.
- If you go online together, it’s important to remember that children with autism may need more time to process information. Be kind and flexible because they may find it difficult to adapt to this format of being together. You may need to use gestures or other ways to communicate besides words. Use positive reinforcement. Praise good behavior – and do not take things personally if their responses are blunt.
- There are many free online video chat services available such as Zoom, FaceTime, Skype and Google Hangout. Set up a regular scheduled timeline that works best for everyone to chat online.
- Ask the parents about your grandchild’s specific interests, favorite activities and the best means of communicating with them. Search for materials about those interests that you can share when you talk together.
Here are some activities you might share:
- Cook a quick (30 minutes or less) favorite family recipe together. NOTE: Send a parent a list of ingredients in advance so the child has everything ready for your visit.
- Color or paint together using the same paint sets or coloring books you have sent to them, in advance.
- Work together on craft sets you have provided. Origami, felt work, ornaments and greeting cards are some projects you can share. Needlework like crochet, knitting, cross stitch and needlepoint starter kits are also available to send to them.
- Music lessons. If you play an instrument, help your grandchild to develop an appreciation for music. There are beginner’s music books for piano, guitar, violin, clarinet and saxophone.
- Read a favorite book to your grandchild online or record your reading and send it to them. Find picture books for younger children and, if possible, send your grandchild the same book so they can follow along with you as you read to them.
- If video contact is not possible, engage with email or phone calls on a regular basis. Send greeting cards, letters or care packages and always enclose your picture or a picture of you and your grandchild sitting together reading, talking, eating, laughing.
While these suggestions are ways you might more easily engage with your grandchild with autism, they may also be effective to stay in touch with your typical grandchildren. They, too, need your loving support!