Guest Writer: Elmari Dreyer – When Your Grandchild Has Special Needs

I have three grandchildren of my own with special needs.

For me it always was a dream to be a grandmother.  When my children were grown-up and got married, I could not wait for them to have kids so that I could become a granny.  I love babies and was always good with toddlers and small children.  I was overwhelmed with happiness when my daughter’s three children were born 18 months apart in a row. I loved them to bits but I could see that my daughter became extremely stressed by the fact that her eldest two were very difficult.  I soon sensed that two of her little ones reacted very differently from what I could remember from my two children.   I loved them very much but was waiting in vain for their happy smiles and them responding to my rhymes and songs.  The eldest, a boy, was hyper-active and had an angry disposition while the baby girl cried a lot, seemed  unhappy and did not reach the usual milestones for babies of her age.

I did not understand what went amiss, until a family member suggested to my children that the two should be taken for professional evaluation.  The parents took them both to a pediatric neurologist who found that the boy has ADHD and the little girl was on the autism spectrum.  Her third child, a baby boy was neuro-typical and we could plainly see the difference in his temperament and development.

In the meantime my son, who is now living in London, got married and they fell pregnant.  We were so happy for them and their eldest son was born without complications.  He was a peaceful and happy baby except serious regurgitation issues.  Soon we noticed developmental problems and speech delay which probably frustrated him to such and extent that he would continuously bite other children.  To make a long story short, it seemed that he also was on the autism spectrum. Their second boy also seemed happy and lovable at first but did not start speaking according to his milestones.  We are still hoping that there may be another reason or solution for him.

When all of these happened, the first thing on my mind was WHY did this happen to my grandchildren.  Was it maybe due to something that I did wrong – perhaps sins of the past?  I immediately realised that this idea was ridiculous and I pushed it from my mind.  Other thoughts that crossed my mind include the possibility of genetic transfer.  Is it not just that my children made mistakes in how they are trying to raise their children?  Was it something in the air that we breathe or the diet that we eat?  What if it is some or other curse on our family?

I was disappointed and scared.  In the beginning I was bargaining with God and asked Him to heal them. We as grandparents also experience trauma when our grandchildren are diagnosed.  As is the case with the parents of the child, it is probably just as important that we as grandparents go through a mourning process.  For me this lasted for quite a while but in the end I realised that it was nobody’s fault, it was not a punishment from God but something that just happened because of this broken world.  Although a lot of research are being done on the topic, the cause of these spectrum disorders has not been found yet.  The more I learned about the conditions, the more I accepted and discarded the toxic thoughts that crossed my mind.  I learned that there are many factors that may play a role individually or simultaneously which cannot yet be pinpointed.  All I could do was to accept it, support my children and love all of them.

I only told you about the evaluations and the shock of the realisation that three of our grandchildren are not neuro-typical.  The day-to-day living with the reality thereof is quite another matter.  We and our children will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives as there are no quick fixes to the situation.  There are lots of interventions, though, as well as therapies  and learning how to deal with the emotions and behaviours of children with ADHD and autism or whatever condition they may have.  This will cost a lot of money, time, patience, energy and dedication from  especially our children, the parents.  It is difficult to comprehend the effect of atypical neurological defects on  the lives and relationships of the whole family as well as the siblings.

Our hearts bleed for our children but as grandparents it is so important that we accept our grandchildren and love them with all our heart, despite the fact that they are different.  We must realise that the way we raised our children would be quite different from how our children now have to raise theirs.   It would therefore be wise for us to try to refrain from giving cheap advice.  We must remember that our children  have a lot on their plate, do their very best and just cannot deal with our criticism and condemnation as well.  Even the slightest negative hint or facial expression may cause hurt and can lead to scars that may never be healed.  We can let our children know that they are welcome to ask for advice if they need it, but that is also fine if they do not accept what we advise.  For every parent (person) it is so crucial that their parents will accept and love their children.  This is no different for parents with special needs children. We must always keep this in mind so that we stay positive to keep our relationships with our children intact.  They must never ever experience a hint of rejection about this.  Although the whole experience is traumatic for all of us, all we can do is to support our children, pray for them, help out where we can  – even to walk the second mile – and LOVE them and their special needs children. It is important that the help we offer will be in a mature and lovable way.  How we react is very important, for an example when other grannies brag about their grandchildren’s’ achievements we have to learn to participate and take our share in bragging, but on another level.  Our love and pride of our grandchildren must always shine through.  It is also important to assure our children that we are willing to assist them as much as we can.  I have come across and heard of parents and grandparents of special needs kids who don’t have meaningful contact with each other because the grandparents simply do not know how to handle the situation.  We must avoid this at all cost.

As grandparents it is important to find out as much as we can about the condition so that we understand better why the discipline of these children are different to what we are used to.  Ask your children to tell you what they have learned but also do your own research  to gain knowledge and understanding.  I found U Tube and Google very helpful to teach me and it is an ongoing process to learn about neuro-atypical conditions in children.  I am sure that I personally have made lots of mistakes along the way, but in the process of learning it becomes better and I am so thankful that my children have patience with me, understand and love me and forgive my blunders.  I just know that I want to be somebody who is helpful and loving in stead of someone who adds to their pain.

We as grandparents play a very important role in the lives of our grandchildren.  We must strive to always be a safe haven where they know they are loved.

It is also important for the parents to inform other close family members about the situation with their child to prevent misunderstanding, rejection and criticism in the family.

The attendance of a support group for grandparents of children with special needs is not without merit.


Published by Johanni Meiring

Part of my existence revolves around written words. I write because this is how I process. I pray that you can associate and be encouraged.

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