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?
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.
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.
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!)
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.