Family

How do you give a child struggling with autism more stability? Call in the grandparents.

Who better than family to make sure you and your child with autism are getting every service available?

How do you give a child struggling with autism more stability? Call in the grandparents.

In 2009, the CDC estimated that 1 in 110 children in the U.S. had autism spectrum disorders.

That was an increase from 1 in 150 just two years prior, and the number keeps increasing. But for families of children with autism, the reality is much more nuanced than those numbers can portray.

Parents of kids with autism tend to struggle with things that many of us cannot understand. They have less time to socialize and little time to do research on services available to their kids. Those services can be quite expensive, too. And sadly, some parents may even find themselves shunned by family and friends who don't quite understand autism. But of course, these parents are also blessed with unique and vibrant children — as with most of parenting, the experience is a mixed bag.


Image via iStock.

But now there's an exciting approach for families of kids with autism. Enter: grandparents.

Sociologist Eva Kahana, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, conducted a literature review of dozens of studies about parenting, special needs kids, and familial relationships. She suggests grandparents are ideal hangout buddies for children, especially those diagnosed with autism.

She found that grandparents can help parents raise autistic children who are better adapted because grandparents often build a bridge to understanding autism for everyone in the family. And because grandma and grandpa are often able to act as neutral "spokespeople" between the family of a child with autism and their extended family or the outside world. Grandparents often end up serving as surrogates, educating people and dispelling any misguided perceptions about autism, including fear and discomfort.

Most grandparents have already raised children, so they may be more aware than parents if their grandchild is showing signs of developing autism.

Most grandparents are extremely emotionally invested in their grandchildren, often second only to parents, so they are more likely to notice and push for an early diagnosis and treatment plan, too.

Image via iStock.

Also, grandparents typically have more time for caretaking and special attention.

That means they are able to do research on after-school programs and other services offered to children with autism that parents may not know about.

“Parents often accept limited services offered to the child at their local public schools, unaware of additional services that schools are required by law to provide to a child with a disability,” Kahana says.

Then there's the issue of money — there's something called a "special needs trust" that grandparents can open for a grandchild who has autism. The trust ensures that the child's future public benefits are never put at risk.

And who better to watch your kids?

Kahana found that children who struggle with autism are less likely to become agitated when grandma or grandpa babysit, as opposed to a babysitter they don't know at all. (Not to mention the added benefit of not having to pay them for their services — that frees up a lot of money parents can spend to improve the quality of life of their children!)

Image via iStock.

The best part is that these are just findings from one article dealing specifically with autism.

Other studies have shown lots of added benefits for children who spend time with their grandparents.

Grandmas and grandpas rule. They're there to spoil you, to say "yes" when your parents say "no," and to send you a lot of unconditional love. But while the bonds between kids and their grandparents are beautiful, they're also functional: They could drastically improve life for kids with autism and other special needs all over the world.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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