When a Grandchild Has Special Needs
Discovering that a baby has special needs can be as painful for grandparents as it is for parents. Learn how grandparents can help.

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Image of grandmother and grandchild When a Grandchild Has Special Needs

When a child has a disability, every member of the family is affected. Discovering that a new baby or a young child has special needs can be as painful and challenging for grandparents as it is for parents. As a grandparent, you can play a key role in helping a child with special needs.

Common disabilities

The first task is learning about your grandchild's disability. Some of the common conditions that can affect babies and young children are:

Autism. Autism is a range of brain disorders that affect a child's ability to interact with other people. Autism first shows up in children before the age of three. Some children with autism have normal or high intelligence. Others are intellectually challenged. Autistic kids may have trouble communicating and show early signs of delayed language development. They may also demonstrate repetitive behaviors, like flapping their hands or rocking back and forth. Early diagnosis is crucial. Early therapy can help some autistic children to socialize more with others and cope more easily in the world.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Between 5 and 8 percent of school-aged children have ADHD. This condition can affect both children and adults. Kids with ADHD have problems with attention and impulses. They may be hyperactive, which can cause behavior problems. They may have trouble paying attention, but not be hyperactive; or they may have trouble with both. ADHD has nothing to do with how smart a child is, but it usually affects schoolwork. Medications, adjustments at school (such as extended time for tests) and behavior changes can help many children with ADHD.

Down syndrome. A baby with Down syndrome is born with an additional chromosome 21. This affects development in a number of ways, including distinct facial features and some degree of intellectual disability. All children with Down syndrome learn to sit up, walk and speak, but they may do so later than other children. Kids and adults with Down syndrome can and do participate fully in many aspects of society.

A grandparent's role

Your support and love are priceless to a grandchild with special needs and to that child's parents. You can help by bonding with and staying close to your grandchild. Let your grandchild know you love him or her exactly as he or she is. This will also help you become more comfortable with your grandchild's condition, learn about how his or her treatment works and help meet his or her needs at home and in school.

Listening to your grandchild's parents and supporting their treatment decisions are key. So are simple tasks like driving or helping with chores. Daily routines can become overwhelming for the child's family. To care for yourself and learn more about how to help, consider joining a support group for parents and grandparents of children with special needs. Also talk with friends whose grandchildren have disabilities.

By Louis Neipris, MD, Contributing Writer
Created on 05/29/2007
Updated on 07/12/2012
  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
  • National Down Syndrome Society. Down syndrome fact sheet.
  • CHADD: National Resource Center on ADIHD. What is ADHD or ADD?
  • AARP. Special needs.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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