Grandparents of Autistic Children Learning About Parenting All Over Again!

Last weekend, my husband and I had our grandson Ty for an entire weekend. It was the first time we have had him at our home that long.  He recently turned 5. That may seem strange to some folks but Ty has autism and taking him out of his normal environment for a stretch of several days was somewhat frightening. I am not sure who more to, him or us. 

Over the years, we have watched closely how to interact with Ty.  We have read a great deal about autism, asked many questions of our children to better understand Ty’s particular abilities as well as his brother Jake’s and bonded. Yes, we have found Ty to be something of a miracle in our lives.  He is a boy that has taught us more than we have taught him.  Who would have thought that would be the experience of a grandparent? 

What we have uncovered is the life of a grandparent of an autistic child, little by little. We are too often greeted by, “Is something wrong with your grandchild?”  Why not ask if you can help? Another line we hear is sorry.  We prefer hearing comments that state how blessed we are.  We are not sorry and find ourselves more emotional about these statements than the boys’ parents because these children are our legacy. They are what they get labeled. Do not label our grandchildren anything but miracles. 

I have often heard of the daily struggles of dealing with meltdowns on particularly trying days. I have witnessed them, deal with them during babysitting times and been advised on how to handle them as well. 

I consider myself not a novice anymore. However, having Ty for the entire weekend, I was not prepared for how many times these can occur, and over small incidents, inconsequential things.   And, within minutes, sometimes, they pass and he seems to have next to no recollection of them occurring.  And yet, here we are, Grandma and Grandpa, scratching our heads non-verbally saying “What was that about?” 

I think my kids must wonder how I ever raised children on my own based on my number of texts to them when I watch Ty.  But see, watching an autistic child is a brand new experience. The variables and perimeters are completely different. What works before, doesn't anymore.   Throw out some of what you think works and go to a new place.  These children do get disciplined but it is handled slightly different.   At times, they are not as aware of what they are doing and have a harder time getting control over their emotions.   And yelling or any form of aggression is a definite no-no! 

Our respect for my son and daughter-n-law (and their nanny) went up tenfold.  This is not a twenty-four hour job folks. This is a seventy –two hour job in a twenty-four hour time frame.  Think about trying to communicate with a child with limited communication all day long.  Or consider trying to routinely pull a child back into the realm of the real world when they want to pull into a small isolated space by focusing on something totally self-absorbed. After even just an afternoon of this, it can be exhausting.  

Ty has a limited vocabulary. Thanks to his parents aggressive approach in getting him the very best in therapy, he has some speech. Though limited, those of us close to him have found it so joyful to celebrate the few words we do hear, mommy, daddy, help, drink, etc..  And he counts, and Ty proudly says the entire alphabet. His brother Jake has mastered quite a lot more words!   Again, great therapy helps, but I have learned from my kids key is also awesome therapists. What I see, equally important is  parents that are very hands on when they with their children.Ty and Jake have this, I am proud to say!  Our contribution seems so small in comparison. 

We are humbled after this weekend.  All the sudden, we realize our children’s jobs are challenging. Well worth all the efforts yes indeed, but we totally think society needs and should embrace more all the families of autistic individuals.  Offer helping hands in any ways they can, as a community and in legislation.   Small things make a huge difference too, such as offering to aide in  transportation to and from therapy.  For our grandchildren, It is simply mind-blowing the schedule plans on a routine basis!  Even with it written down at home, we find it confusing.  It is impossible to believe the children don’t ever land up at the wrong place at the wrong time. If we were running the show, it is with certainty that would happen.

And yet, at the very basic level, this is your typical American family.  They love, they share, they eat as a family and they vacation. They spend time together, they work as a group on family issues and they attend Church.  They support one another, the children feel each other’s pain and do not tolerate outsiders hurting each other.  The older sister Ava is quite protective of her younger brothers.  

Let us not forget, family is where the heart is. Whether your home has a child with autism or not, love must abound for children to flourish.  It does in these homes with these children but the needs are plentiful here.   

Please take the time to understand who these families are in your community, your church, your schools.  Don't judge and assume every child in society acting out is not being disciplined when you see them in public. They could be having a melt-down issue.  Offer to lend a hand if you come in contact with one of these families. You will not regret it. It will enrich your life immeasurably!

Their true colors will come shining through!  Hopefully through the video you can catch a  glimpse.  Click here to go to YouTube Video

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